A city official from Riverdale is refuting claims that the municipality relies on citations to raise revenue.
According to a report released in late October by the Institute for Justice, fines and fees in three Georgia cities were the second-largest revenue source after property taxes.
“Over a five-year period, Morrow, Riverdale and Clarkston generated on average 14 percent to 25 percent of their revenues from fines and fees, while similarly sized Georgia cities took in just 3 percent,” the report states.
Nathaniel Mingo, Riverdale's court services director, said the report is misleading.
“In sum, we are not reliant on fines and fees,” Mingo wrote in an email statement. “The better question that should be asked is are the citations valid citations and did the violator actually do what was alleged?”
In the IFJ report, titled “Taxation by Citation,” authors Dick M. Carpenter II, Kyle Sweetland and Jennifer McDonald looked at the revenue sources for the three cities from 2016 to 2017.
Municipal governments often fund their cities with taxes, state and county grants, fees and utilities. According to the report, fees and fines accounted for an average of 14 percent of Riverdale’s revenue over the five years. Morrow’s fees and fines were 17 percent of their revenue, while Clarkston’s was 25 percent.
IJS obtained citation data from the cities through public records requests. The citations were grouped by property, conduct and traffic and calculated by per capita.
“They process more cases than courts in similarly-sized cities, and nearly everyone coming before them pleads or is found guilty,” according to the report.
Between 2016 and 2017, most of Riverdale’s citations, about 16,000, were for traffic violations, according to the report. But Mingo provided data to The Center Square that shows that citations decreased in Riverdale by an average of nearly 1,400 from 2012 to 2016.
IFJ researchers agree that the percentage of fines and fees have decreased over time, but they still argue that it is the second-largest revenue source after property taxes.
Mingo argued that that statement is false.
According to the city’s budgets published online, fines and fees were the third highest source of revenue for Riverdale in 2016, 2017 and 2018 following sales taxes and property taxes. The budget for 2015 was unavailable. However, the budgets for 2014 to 2012 do not separate the taxes by category; therefore, fees and fines do reflect IFJ’s findings.
“There is a difference between what is collected by the court and what is actually kept by the city,” Mingo said.
“On a $145.00 total fine assessment the city only keeps $100.47,” he said. “So I am not sure if the numbers they are using are total collections or monies that the city actually keeps.