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Birmingham provides more money to local court

By Grace Lovins

The Birmingham City Commission voted to approve the 2023 budget for the 48th district court at a meeting on Monday, December 19, agreeing to the city advancing the court over $1 million for the 2023 court operations.

At the commission’s previous meeting on December 5, Patrick Dunn, court administrator, and the city’s financial director, Mark Gerber, explained the 2023 court budget, which indicates that Birmingham, one of three funding units, will be responsible for paying the court approximately $1.3 million, up $28,000 from 2022. The court’s total budget for the year is set around $4.8 million, a 3.1 percent increase from 2022.

Birmingham is one of three main funding units for the court, along with Bloomfield Township and West Bloomfield, meaning the three communities are responsible for most of the funding for the court’s operations and maintenance. The other four communities the court serves, known as political subdivisions, are responsible for a much smaller share of the funding.

As a funding unit for the court, Birmingham does receive most of the revenue from the city's caseload, along with two-thirds of the revenue from the four political subdivisions. According to a report given to the commission on December 5, based on the city’s 2022 caseload, Birmingham has almost 40 percent of cases out of the three funding units, Birmingham is expected to receive approximately $1.8 million of court revenue for 2022, excluding the cost of prosecution reimbursement.

The commission had requested to see the caseload per judge compared to other communities at the previous meeting, which had been delivered by Dunn and included in the commissioner's packet report. Commissioners additionally asked to see the estimated loss for 2022 based on the city’s current caseload. While the information was not provided by the court, the report indicates that the city’s finance department estimates a $400,000 loss based on the city being responsible for 39.65 percent of the 2022 caseload, based on the amount of cases Birmingham is sending to the court.

Commissioner Andrew Haig, after thanking Dunn for providing the information requested, added that he feels the request for opportunities for the funding units to work with the court for efficiencies is still missing considering the net loss for Birmingham and potentially the other funding units. He emphasized finding big picture expenses that can be reduced to help the court, funding units and political subdivisions to improve the overall cost structure.

In response to Haig’s comment, Dunn explained that the judges and court staff continuously work to utilize cost saving measures, such as meeting with vendors and contractors to renegotiate contracts if necessary. The judges at the court have implemented multiple cost saving measures, according to Dunn, and before the budget is presented to the communities, the court revisits those measures to make sure costs are being cut when applicable.

Dunn additionally addressed concerns raised by the commission related to communication between court personnel and the seven communities which are all partly responsible for funding the court. He noted that the court responds to all communications and the doors of the judges and himself are always open if city representatives would like to have a conversation.

“We understand the responsibilities that the funding units have undertaken, and we want to work with you so that you understand the operation and what can be done to make sure the court is upholding its duty to the public,” Dunn said.

Citing the estimated $400,000 loss for the city in 2022, commissioner Brad Host took issue with the budget given the amount of money the city will be losing annually if Birmingham continues to be financially responsible for a majority of the caseload.

“I came back and asked Mr. Dunn, ‘the way it’s shaping up, it looks like we’re going to lose $400,000 this year,’ and with the budget that was given to us, we’re going to lose a minimum of another $400,000 next year,” Host said. “This comes out of our taxpayers’ pockets and the reason I mention all this is … one of our responsibilities is fiscal responsibility. This is an insane situation that we’re going to outlay $1.3 million and we’re going to lose $400,000. This is not a sustainable endeavor and I’m going to vote against it.”

The commission voted 6-1, with Host voting against the motion, to approve the 2023 budget for the 48th district court with the request that the judges and appropriate court staff meet more frequently with the funding and non-funding units in order to provide a better understanding of the court’s operations.


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