Judge: Fines go back 17 years

By RICHARD LUKEN
Register Reporter

The city is owed nearly $70,000 in unpaid municipal court fines. Judge Thomas Saxton shared the figures with Iola city commissioners Tuesday, and added perspective.
The number sounds hefty, and it is, Saxton said, but it also accounts for some defendants convicted as far back as 1991.
Those cases remain on the books in case the city ever gets an opportunity to collect the fines from the state through such things as income tax refunds, Saxton said. He acknowledged that the chances of collecting on the oldest accounts were slim.
Unpaid fines typically equal about 2 percent of all income generated through the municipal court system, Saxton said. Take away the active collections — those in which defendants have agreed to pay fines in a specified time — and the uncollected fines total drops to about three-quarters of a percent.
Saxton was invited by the commissioners to talk about a variety of court issues, including ways to curb repeat offenders and the need for a backup court officer.
Mayor Bill Maness has inquired about reviving a community service program, which has been inactive since John Wallace retired a few years ago.
In a perfect world, the community service program would allow defendants to work off their court fines and serve as a deterrent from violating city laws in the future. In reality, the program is difficult to institute, Saxton said, because most repeat offenders aren’t the type to handle community service responsibly.
“If incarceration is not a deterrent, then I don’t know how we can stop” repeat offenders, Saxton said.
Those who aren’t convinced through lengthy jail sentences to avoid criminal activity likely won’t be much influenced by doing community service, Saxton said.
The city’s more urgent need, he said, is to have a second court officer on hand to spell court clerk Susie Call and that having only Call on duty is akin to running a single computer for years with no backup.
“Outside of Iola, I don’t know of any other city that has a single person do it all, like we do,” Saxton said.
Saxton suggested the city hire an officer to serve as Call’s backup, while handling other duties, such as administering a community service program, if the city wishes to reinstitute it.
City Commissioner Craig Abbott proposed that perhaps other cities should aspire to be more like Iola’s, with a skilled employee such as Call capable of handling all of the duties. Saxton agreed with Abbott’s praise of Call, but repeated that the city should have a backup officer trained to fill in if Call ever was unavailable.
Commissioners said they would consider the matter further.

IOLAN LYLE Kern hopes to see more pickleball in Iola. He requested the city convert its two tennis courts in Meadowbrook Park into pickleball courts.
Pickleball is a hybrid of tennis, badminton and Ping-Pong, Kern explained.
The court is the same size as one used for badminton, while the net is set up like one for tennis. Wiffle balls are used instead of shuttlecocks or tennis balls.
Kern and a group of other pickleball enthusiasts play each Saturday morning. They’ve used makeshift courts at Meadowbrook Park until recently, when they’ve shifted indoors to the Jefferson Elementary School gymnasium.
Kern invited the public to come watch and even participate.
“We’ll be there every Saturday morning at 9, including Halloween,” Kern said.
Kern recalled visiting a pickleball court in Lawrence, and a group expressed an interest in playing in Iola.
“I told them to hold off just a bit,” Kern said.
The Meadowbrook courts are rarely used for tennis any more, Kern said, because most tennis enthusiasts use newer courts near Iola High School.
Converting the two tennis courts to six pickleball courts would cost $6,300, based on figures Kern gathered from the Internet, although the cost could be pared if city crews built their own customized poles for the pickleball nets.
Kern also requested the city resurface the court, and if possible, install wind screens.
Kern has assisted with a pickleball camp through the Iola Recreation Department over the summer.
Commissioners asked Recreation Director Luke Bycroft if his department had funds budgeted to assist with Kern’s request. Not right now, Bycroft responded, but possibly after the first of the year.
Because of approaching cold weather, there is no urgency to convert the courts now, Kern agreed.
Commissioners promised to consider Kern’s proposal.