News and Tribune

December 4, 2012

Jeffersonville approves audit for court funds

$10,000 for bridges suit approved, with restrictions

By BRADEN LAMMERS
braden.lammers@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE — Jeffersonville City Council approved seeking a third-party audit over City Court funds before the City Clerk assumes control over finances and employees of the court.

The Indiana State Board of Accounts agreed that the Jeffersonville City Clerk Vicki Conlin should take over the duties of the clerk of the city court and issued a letter to that effect. There is an ongoing dispute between the clerk’s office and the City Court Judge Ken Pierce about who is responsible for controlling the funds the court collects and the maintenance of its records.

Attorney Larry Wilder, representing City Clerk Vicki Conlin, said at Monday night’s meeting that Pierce may still choose to disregard the letter.

“It is merely an audit opinion,” he said.

The discrepancy between the clerk and judge exists, in part, due to the city’s move to second-class city status last year.

As a third-class city, Jeffersonville’s city judge was allowed to determine who would act as the clerk of his court and collect funds, such as the Probationary User Fee fund. The employees who handle payments and maintained records for the courts remained under the city court’s purview, although it was supposed to — as a second-class city — fall under the duties of the city clerk.

A compromise was offered to allow the employees to remain in the city court office, but report to the clerk.

“We are unable to reach the compromise we offered oh so many months ago,” Wilder said.

As part of the move, he said the council must down determine where to place and pay employees.

None of the employees slated to be under Conlin’s office have been included in the 2013 budget because of the question of control.

“We can accommodate it as soon as Jan. 1, but we did not provide for it because we did not have a final determination,” said City Controller Monica Harmon.

But before any move is made, Councilwoman Connie Sellers asked that an audit of the court’s funds be completed.

The council agreed to allow Harmon to move forward with hiring a third-party auditor to examine the court’s funds.



City again stalls on money for tolls suit

Legal concerns of the city pledging public funds to a private entity to help pay for a lawsuit again kept the council from pledging $10,000 outright to an effort fighting tolling on new bridges planned over the Ohio River.

The city council had heard the request previously from Councilman Dennis Julius to offer $10,000 to a group fighting the inclusion of tolls on the downtown portion of the Ohio River Bridges Project, but balked at approval to investigate the legality of pledging public funds to go toward a private, nonprofit entity heading up the suit — Organization for a Better Southern Indiana.

The town of Clarksville and the Clark-Floyd Counties Convention and Tourism Bureau have already pledged $10,000 to fight tolls on the downtown corridor because of the anticipated negative economic affect it will have on Southern Indiana.  

An economic impact study conducted by the Indiana Finance Authority as part of the process to enter into a public-private partnership cited tolling would negatively impact employment by 1,578 jobs, negatively affect personal income by $2.2 billion and negatively affect business output by $5.58 billion over 30 years.

Julius offered a solution with City Council Attorney Scott Lewis to pledge the money to the tourism bureau, which would then dole out the money.

However, Lewis said restrictions would still apply to the money, keeping it from going to a private entity for a lawsuit.

But questions from the council persisted including, if not being donated to a lawsuit, what would the money be used for.

Julius said the funding could be used for promotional tools against tolling the downtown corridor or to question, and examine, the economic impact study and the speed at which it was conducted to seek a remedy.

“I think it’s very important Jeffersonville shows that we are opposed to the tolls and the injustice that the economic study showed ... on our city,” he said.

Councilman Mike Smith made a motion to allow Lewis to seek an interlocal agreement with the tourism bureau and to dedicate $10,000 out of the city’s gaming fund, subject to another approval of the agreement by the council.

The motion was approved 6-3, with Councilmen Brian Glover, Matt Owen and Nathan Samuel voting against.