Two months of low caseloads affected revenue for Stow Municipal Court

LAURA FREEMAN Reporter

STOW – The Stow Municipal Court is fully open for business again, but low caseloads in April and May led to a 40 to 50% decrease in revenue.

As the courthouse moves from part-time to full-time operation during the COVID-19 pandemic, revenue could level off and regain some normal level that it had at the start of the year, said John Earle, director of budget and management for the city of Stow. During the first three months of the year the receipts were strong for the court. It all depends on the caseload.

Council members June 4 invited Judge Kim Hoover, Judge Lisa Coates and Clerk of Courts Amber Zibritosky to share budget information on the Stow Municipal Courthouse during a special finance committee meeting.

Hoover said the courts have stayed in session during the COVID-19 pandemic with partial days, and on June 1, the judges went back to full operation.

“Much of what we lost, we won’t recoup,” Hoover said. “We don’t have the same number of cases to handle.”

The number of cases dropped precipitously and the impact rises when it’s multiplied by 16 communities, he said.

“We’ll have the fewest cases in probably 50 years,” Hoover said. “I don’t know what it will mean in revenue. People are writing tickets again. We have to be ready and able to handle the [future] cases.”

The court revenue is the third largest source of revenue for the city of Stow, Earle said. Last year the money was $600,000 short of breaking even, so the court used money in special accounts to make up the shortfall, which the court has done for several years.

In a normal year the courts have a $600,000 budget deficit and cover it with special funds, Hoover said.

Yearly payments for the construction of the courthouse have been between $600,000 and $700,000 with the court paying two-thirds and the city paying one-third or about $200,000, Earle said.

“The deficit may double, and we don’t know if we’ll have enough to cover that,” Hoover said. “We always cover our operating budget for courts and clerks, but it really impacted Stow and it makes it impossible to pay on the building debt.”

Funds for making up a deficit normally come through cuts in expenditures or the reserve fund.

“If we ran a deficit, all our communities would be asked to pay back fines,” Hoover said. “We think we have enough coming in and on hand, and we don’t think there will be a deficit this year. We don’t know about next year.”

The courts are a business, he said. They depend on cases but during the pandemic there were no tickets written and no court cases. To reduce the deficit, Hoover said the courts canceled anything that didn’t need to be done.

Work around the courthouse done through community service was canceled and the staff mowed the lawn, did landscaping and janitorial duties.

“We’re doing it with our own staff,” Hoover said. “We’re trying to save money wherever we can.”

Council member Cyle Feldman (at-large) thanked the judges for their work and saving money. He said during April and May criminal cases were down 274, traffic cases were down 1,501 and civil cases were down 590.

“The cases are coming back in, and we’ll go into the summer season without any interns,” Coates said. “We’re doing all the cleaning and landscaping among our staff. We’re impressed with our staff for doing that.”

Zibritosky said at the end of 2019 they didn’t fill a full-time and part-time position and the staff at 15 employees is the lowest it’s been going back to two previous clerks. That offsets the 3% increase in employee wages negotiated previously.

“We’re doing our part to cut costs,” Zibritosky said. “We’ve been working hard to reduce costs where we can.”

The Court serves sixteen communities in northern Summit County including Boston Heights, Boston Township, Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson, Macedonia, Munroe Falls, Northfield, Northfield Center Township, Peninsula, Reminderville, Sagamore Hills, Silver Lake, Stow, Tallmadge, Twinsburg and Twinsburg Township.

Gannett reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at lfreeman@recordpub.com