Monday morning the Hawkins County Commission approved a new $50 litigation tax to be levied on anyone who files a lawsuit in sessions or circuit court, or anyone who is convicted of a crime in either court.
Based on last year’s figures, Hawkins County Circuit Court Clerk Holly Jaynes said the new tax could generate $125,000 from the civil courts alone.
It’s a little bit harder to estimate new revenue from the sessions and circuit criminal courts, but depending her ability to collect, Jaynes said it could exceed the civil court revenue.
“It’s difficult to put a figure to criminal court because there’s just so many variables,” Jaynes said. “When someone gets sent to prison, we’re supposed to collect it after they get out, but that’s easier said than done. But this fee gets tacked onto every charge, and that includes traffic offenses, so the potential for a lot of revenue is there.”
With $50 being tacked on for every case, Jaynes said the potential is there for some defendants to get hit pretty hard by this new tax. It’s not unusual for a person charged with DUI to end up with five or more different charges, and the fee is levied on every charge that results in a conviction.
It’s also not uncommon for a defendant to plead guilty in circuit court to 20 or more forgery cases. A person convicted of 20 counts of forgery will be looking at $1,000 in additional court costs.
“I think we're looking at an overall increase of between $250,000 and $300,000 in revenue,” Jaynes said. “And our caseloads aren’t decreasing. They’re increasing. This is a lot of new revenue.
“It’s also a lot more to collect, and that’s one thing that worries me because you can’t get blood from a turnip.”
And Jaynes has good advice for anyone who wants to avoid the new tax.
“Stay out of court,” she said. “Of course, sometimes civil litigation is unavoidable. But certainly folks can avoid criminal litigation by not committing crimes.”
By law, half of the $50 the fee would be earmarked toward eliminating debt for the new Hawkins County Jail complex and courthouse renovation, which have a combined price tag of about $15 million.
The other half of the fee would be earmarked toward courthouse security costs.
The new litigation tax takes effect Nov. 3.
In other business Monday the Hawkins County Commission:
•Approved by a vote of 17-2 with one abstention a contract with Southern Health Partners for inmate health care for the Hawkins County Jail in the amount of $112,800 based on 75 inmates.
Sheriff Roger Christian told the Times-News Tuesday that this past fiscal year he budgeted $200,000 for inmate health care and spent more than $300,000. Christian said the plan is expected to create a big savings for the county, especially as inmate population grows with the opening next year of the new 232-bed jail.
•Appointed Tony Burchfield to fill the unexpired term of recently deceased Claud Cain on the Hawkins County Industrial Board.
•Agreed to accept roads in the St. Clair Estates subdivision off of Route 113 as county roads including English Road, Cheyanna Court, Sawyer Court, Cindy Court and Shirley Drive.