Recently, 65 municipalities in Saint Louis County announced a warrant forgiveness program for December. In the program, defendants with outstanding warrants can get their warrant dropped if they go to the municipal court that issued the warrant and post a $100 bond. While this is a good thing for many poor residents who have, for whatever reason, failed to attend court, it does not change the underlying problem of cities relying on fines and fees to fund themselves.

We’ve written before about how many Saint Louis municipalities get large, possibly illegal, portions of their revenue from zealous enforcement of traffic laws and local ordinances. Twenty municipalities get more than 20 percent of their revenue from fines and fees, with three cities (Calverton Park, Bella Villa, and Vinita Terrace) deriving more than 50 percent of revenue from those sources.

And should one of the many recipients of these citations need to appear in local court because they wish to challenge the citation or cannot pay the fine (or fix their ticket), it is far from convenient. Calverton Park and Bella Villa both only hold traffic court one evening a month. As an in-depth story in the Washington Post described, many residents, especially the poor, have a difficult time navigating the process.

Allowing defendants with outstanding warrants to set things right is a way of relieving some of the built up stress for locals, but a more long-term solution is to make policing about law and order, not revenue collection, in all Saint Louis County municipalities. That may mean combining police or court services with other municipalities, or if necessary disincorporating cities altogether. At the state level, that could mean strengthening and enforcing the Macks Creek Law. If something isn’t done to fix the underlying problem of burdensome municipalities, this holiday amnesty’s impact won’t long outlive the holidays themselves.
Joseph Miller

About the Author

Joseph Miller
Joseph Miller was a policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute. He focused on infrastructure, transportation, and municipal issues. He grew up in Itasca, Ill., and earned an undergraduate degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and a master’s degree from the University of California-San Diego’s School of International Relations and Pacific Studies.