Charlottesville Attorney – State would snatch local fines under budget plan
Amherst sheriff blasts proposal to send fine money to state
By: Scott Marshall | The Amherst New Era-Progress
Published: March 29, 2012
Amherst County Sheriff L.J. “Jimmy” Ayers III expressed outrage Wednesday that a Virginia Senate budget amendment seeks to divert local law enforcement fine money to the state government.
“I find it appalling that the state is attempting to divert local income to their coffers,” Ayers said in a news release. “It’s one thing to cut revenue they send localities, but another to do that and then take the local income as well.”
Senate members are continuing their efforts to hammer out a state budget this week. The amendment would divert a portion of the fine money to the state Literary Fund, which is used to help finance school construction across the state.
A statement Wednesday by the Virginia Sheriff’s Association criticized the amendment.
“The sheriffs view the Senate action on the diversion of local fine money to the state with great concern that has significant implications toward public safety,” the association said.
If the amendment is approved, Amherst County would lose money to run the Inmate Work Program, which Ayers said has saved taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars since its inception in October 2009.
Ayers has said repeatedly that local fine money is crucial for local public safety efforts. The result of losing it would be devastating, he said in a recent presentation to the Amherst County Board of Supervisors.
Under the amendment, revenue for law enforcement and other local core services will suffer, according to the sheriff’s association.
“The Constitution is clear that local fine money is exempted from the constitutional requirement that state fine money go to the ‘literary fund,’” the association said in a statement.
For instance, in Amherst County, as of Feb. 27, under the supervision of two deputies, the six to eight inmate workers had worked 30,000 to 40,000 hours, eight hours per day. Beginning in October 2010, they began cleaning the kennels at the county’s animal shelter and Humane Society, which has totaled 5,840 hours of labor.
The inmates are screened and have not been arrested previously for violent felony offenses.
As of Feb. 27, they had collected eight tons of tires and nearly 50 tons of trash. In the past few days, they have been working to improve the median barrier on U.S. 29 from the James River Bridge to Madison Heights, with help from the Virginia Department of Transportation.
“The program has enhanced the appearance of Amherst County, has provided the inmates with an opportunity to give back to society … and has provided $259,840 to $332,240 in free labor,” Ayers told the supervisors this month.
Other beneficiaries of local fine money include: Amherst County Circuit Court and General District Court clerks offices; boys and girls baseball, softball and football teams; county parks; the Central Virginia Crime Stoppers program; and money to provide life-saving automatic external defibrillators at ball parks.
Law enforcement programs that benefit from fine money include money spent for: in-car video cameras and computers and speed-detection equipment, most commonly known as radar units; canine enforcement; Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or D.A.R.E.; the Boy Scout Explorer program; vehicles; and animal control equipment.
If the amendment is approved, the cost of these programs would be paid for by taxpayers instead of the offenders, Ayers said.
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