Traffic fines graphic

Louisiana has too many small towns that rely on traffic fines to fund their budgets. That is a major finding of a national analysis done by Governing magazine. Nine Louisiana towns are among the top 15 with the highest percentage of general revenues coming from fines and forfeitures.

Two of the nine are in Southwest Louisiana. Fenton, a town of about 400 between Interstate 10 and Kinder, is No. 2 on the list. The magazine said its police wrote up more than $1.2 million in fines, or about 91 percent of its 2017 general fund revenues. Reeves, a village in Allen Parish, is No. 6. It had a population of 232 in the 2010 census. Fines accounted for 84 percent of its revenues.

The other state towns in the top 15 are Georgetown (91) percent, Baskin (89 percent), Henderson (85 percent), Robeline (84 percent), Pioneer (82 percent), Tullos (80 percent) and Forest Hill (76 percent).

The Governing magazine analysis found that a select group of states are home to the majority of localities with relatively high fine revenues, while they are mostly absent elsewhere. It said fines being used to finance budgets are most common in Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, New York, Oklahoma and Texas.

The magazine said research suggests police favor local residents when writing traffic tickets. At least 124 jurisdictions it reviewed recorded annual fine revenues exceeding $500 per capita, suggesting out-of-towners are likely funding much of the towns’ budgets.

Fines and forfeitures accounted for more than one-fifth of general revenues in the most recent financial audits for 49 localities in Louisiana.

Towns counting on mostly traffic fines to fund their budgets are facing two major problems. Multiple lawsuits in several states are challenging municipal court practices and fines. Secondly, new advancements in driving technology could one day drastically limit the money that cities can take in through speeding tickets and other violations.

John Gallagher, executive director of the Louisiana Municipal Association, said in many small towns state highways cut right through central business districts. He said it would be malfeasance if police didn’t aggressively patrol some of these stretches of highways through towns.

Robert Travis Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR), told the magazine, “If I had to point to one reason why this happens, it’s because culturally you have (local) agencies who have grown dependent on these types of revenue sources. They don’t want to let it go.”

These towns may have no better source for funding their budgets, but their police should be fair and just in the way they write traffic tickets.

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