Paulson puts a hold on court surcharge
Aspen Times Staff Writer
It will be two more weeks before the Aspen City Council can decide if it will add a surcharge to municipal court fines to support substance abuse prevention programs.
The proposed ordinance was put on hold because of councilman Terry Paulson, who said at Monday night’s council meeting that he would rather see the punishment fit the crime than have drivers who run stop signs pay a surcharge.
The “Court Surcharge Ordinance” would put into effect a 35 percent surcharge on all convicted municipal offenses except for parking tickets.
City Attorney David Hoefer said the surcharge could generate up to $15,000 per year. Although in the first year the funds collected would benefit a local detoxification program, in the following years the City Council could use the money for support programs for victims and witnesses, or traffic education.
Hoefer said that the fines that the municipal court judge in Aspen hands down are “extremely low,” compared to other communities. He said that when he was prosecuting similar crimes in Montana, he found that alcohol and drug abuse was a thread that ran through most criminal cases, and that too often criminals do not receive treatment for their substance abuse problems.
“The average amount of the surcharge would be $35 to $50 – that’s what the average person with a drug and alcohol problem would spend in a week,” Hoefer said. “When you look at it that way, it’s not that much.”
Even so, Aspen resident Sy Coleman told the council members that he opposes the ordinance, primarily because he feels it might break down trust between residents and local police.
“One of the things we treasure in Aspen is the relationship of trust between the city of Aspen and the police department,” he said. “I’ve never heard anyone say, `The cops stopped me because [they wanted to collect some money].'”
Coleman said it’s a disincentive to tourism, and that it’s a bad idea “to justify a piece of legislation by coming up with a group of people to target.”
Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson said the police department has “never operated with a quota,” and that the community has struggled with how to support alcohol and drug treatment in the community. He said the surcharge would ideally fund education to prevent substance abuse.
Although council members Rachel Richards and Torre both voiced support for the ordinance, it only took one voice of dissent to put the passage of the surcharge on hold since both Mayor Helen Klanderud and councilman Tim Semrau were absent.
Ryerson said he believes that if Klanderud and Semrau had been at the meeting the ordinance would have passed. But he added that he doesn’t mind studying the issue further to address Paulson’s concerns.
“I can understand it; it’s a complex issue and I think it’s appropriate for them to be taking the time to consider their options,” he said. The ordinance would go into effect 30 days after its passage.
Hoefer said the department has polled 30 other jurisdictions in Colorado, and found that only two of them do not have surcharges in place. The town of Basalt has a 25 percent surcharge on their municipal offenses, used to support their commitment to the regional detox program, he said.
Hoefer and Ryerson were asked to bring a synopsis of last year’s municipal crimes to the City Council’s next meeting, and further investigate keeping the surcharge specific to drug- and alcohol-related crimes. The ordinance will be back in front of the council on Oct. 14.
[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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