Moroni backs away from combining its justice court with Mt. Pleasant’s

 

By John Hales

Staff writer

Oct. 12, 2017

 

MORONI—The Moroni City Council has put the nix on a plan to join the Moroni and Mt. Pleasant justice courts after first appearing favorable to the idea.

But it appears court consolidation has not been quashed in concept, but merely this particular plan at this particular time.

One Moroni official says the city is still willing to entertain the idea, and a Mt. Pleasant official says he’ll continue looking for ways North Sanpete cities can pool their resources in various areas.

“Resources” primarily means “money,” and that’s what it came down to in Moroni’s decision.

“The city’s still willing to do something on it, but the other cities would almost have to provide some more monies for Moroni to financially absorb it,” said Moroni Mayor Luke Freeman, explaining the decision the Moroni City Council arrived at a meeting on Sept. 19.

The “other cities,” plural, Freeman referred to is an important point.

“With Moroni and Mt. Pleasant alone, it just wasn’t financially feasible to do it ourselves,” Freeman said. “We would just break even or go even more into the hole that we already are.”

The council reached that conclusion after city financial advisor Gary Keddington took a close look at the numbers. At an earlier meeting, Moroni seemed to be favorable to the idea as long as consolidation was “financially worth it.” It was that caveat that caused the plan, broached by Mt. Pleasant some time ago, to cave in.

The only real benefit Moroni council members saw would be convenience; namely, other cities who signed on wouldn’t have the hassle of running a justice court anymore.

Moroni, as the city with the newest courtroom and as sponsor of the court, would see no such benefit. On the contrary, Moroni would face inconvenience and cost because it would have to hold court more often, hire another court clerk and probably more police, and possibly even modify its relatively new city building.

How Mt. Pleasant, and other cities might that might join in the cooperative court, would help pay for the court without their court costs or Moroni’s court costs going up just wasn’t clear, Freeman said.

“The numbers simply didn’t come out,” the mayor said. As the council continued to look at them, “the numbers just kept dwindling and dwindling until it was not as beneficial as we initially thought it would be.”

Freeman did say the city is open to considering future possibilities, but it would be up to Mt. Pleasant, or other cities, to present a plan that worked.

Mt. Pleasant Councilman Justin Atkinson says he’s up to the task.

“I don’t think it’s a dead issue,” Atkinson said last week. “…These communities are struggling so much on their own. Why not share their resources and save a little bit of money?”

Atkinson said he sympathized with Moroni’s concerns, and that it’s probably a good idea to look to include Fountain Green and Spring City in any future plans. Both of those cities, he said, have expressed at least some degree of interest.

The justice court judge needs to be on board, too, Atkinson said. “He needs to understand how his decisions affect the cities financially.”

For instance, whenever a fine is dismissed by a judge, it diminishes revenue being brought in by the court. For a court like Mt. Pleasant’s, which spends considerable resources adjudicating what might be called “real crime,” rather than just traffic tickets and nuisance citations, the impact can be significant.

At the same time, focusing only on the dollar can be shortsighted, Atkinson said.  “We focus so much on the bottom dollar; we let budgets force us into bad decisions. And we keep going in that direction.”

He’ll keep working on a consolidated courts plan, but it isn’t the only thing he’s looking at. And, he said, even if other cities join their courts and exclude Mt. Pleasant for the time being, “I think that’s a step in the right direction.”

Atkinson said that like the Centerfield and Gunnison did some time ago, perhaps the North Sanpete area could have a unified police department. The north end of the county already has an area-wide ambulance organization and fire district.

“I think there are a lot of things we can look at that can help,” Atkinson said. “The courts … are just a piece of the puzzle; they might not be the holy grail. I think there’s a lot of different pieces of the puzzle that could be done to really make a difference.”