Agreement continues district court funding
By Grace Lovins
Birmingham city commissioners deliberated funding for the 48th District Court during the Monday, December 18, meeting, ending with the city choosing to continue with the current funding agreement while also pursuing a new agreement with the political subdivisions that are part of the district court.
Commissioners were presented with the court’s proposed budget at the previous meeting on Monday, December 4, which showed the court requesting $4.8 million for total operations. City manager Jana Ecker noted that the commission now had to decide whether to approve the funding agreement between the funding units and political subdivisions or pull out as a funding unit.
Last year, Ecker made a verbal agreement with the political subdivisions for what she stated is a more equitable solution to the fiscal burden on the funding units. According to Ecker, the political subdivisions in some years would receive more money from the court than they were required to fund.
With the verbal agreement, the political subdivisions – Keego Harbor, Sylvan Lake, Bloomfield Hills and Orchard Lake – would take the revenues that they generated from the court for the year and put it towards the cost the funding units are required to pay if the funding units are in a deficit for the year.
City attorney Mary Kucharek said at the most the political subdivisions could receive roughly $20,000 to $50,000 in revenue from the court ranging from all four communities.
None of the political subdivisions actually formally approved the agreement, said Ecker. The commission then had to decide whether they wanted to continue the current funding agreement, ask the political subdivisions again to approve the agreement arranged by Ecker, or pull out as a funding unit and create their own court.
“While I think that in principle, they shouldn’t be making a profit when we are investing over our return, I’m not sure that it’s worth staff time to continue to push this for so little financial return,” said commissioner Therese Longe.
Kucharek, responding to a question posed by commissioner Clinton Baller, stated that if the city were to pull out of the funding agreement, it is highly likely the other funding units as well as the court itself would file a lawsuit. In that case, the suit would go to circuit court, then appellate court and, said Kucharek, potentially lead to a new funding agreement created by the court in which the city could be paying more than they do now.
“If we don’t approve this, then we have to find a location … we have to then at our own court have one of the three judges here, so there’s that consideration as well. … It’s not just about how much money we’re losing and that we want a little better deal, it’s that we have to participate or we have to recreate 48-1 District Court in Birmingham,” noted commissioner Anthony Long.
Commissioners voted 6-1 to continue participating in the current funding agreement with Bloomfield Township and West Bloomfield and to continue pursuing an agreement with the political subdivisions that would help offset the expenditures of the funding units. Commissioner Brad Host voted against the motion.
“That doesn’t address the real problem which is, from a governance viewpoint, we need to be fiscally responsible. … This is an unfair situation among the seven but more importantly, we shouldn’t be talking about the seven so much as talking about the expenses of the court,” said Host.