| By Jason C. Mattox
Batesville’s municipal court judge appeared before the mayor and board of aldermen Tuesday to ask that the city continue its work release program that allows people who owe misdemeanor fines to satisfy them by performing public service if they cannot afford to pay the fine.
Municipal court judge Bill McKenzie was accompanied by court clerk Renee Hubbard and Batesville Police officer Lannie Jones.
The board has in recent months discussed the pros and cons of the program, which requires supervisory assistance from city employees as work release participants are assigned to a variety of cleaning and maintenance type jobs on city property.
"I like have the option of the work program," McKenzie said. "There are times people aren’t working and can’t pay the fines. If we put them in jail, the city will be responsible for their medical attention and the cost of housing them in the county jail."
McKenzie said the work program works out especially well when it comes to juveniles.
"If we fine someone," he said, "the money is going to come out of his parents pocket, and the idea is not punish the parents.
"If these kids have to spend a few days during the summer or Christmas break shoveling asphalt, it helps them figure out they might not want to do it again," the judge added.
One problem with the system is sometimes there isn’t enough work to keep program enlistees busy, according to Hubbard, the court clerk.
"There just really isn’t enough for them to do," she said, "especially when it’s raining."
Mayor Jerry Autrey asked Street Department Superintendent Teddy Austin if he could use any of the "temporary" workers.
"I could always use four or five extra men," Austin said. "But the truth is I have had so much trouble out of them I really don’t want them."
Alderman-at-Large?Teddy Morrow said he believed the city’s best option would be to hire a full-time person to oversee the work release crew.
"If we were to hire someone, he could check in with the superintendents and see where they are needed," he said. "There would not be as much down time that way."
BCC director Roy Hyde asked if his facility would receive preference over other departments in the city.
"If we can use them, it keeps us from having to bring in our part-timers," he said.
Austin said he had no problem with that.
"You can have them every day of the week," he said. "I don’t want them."
Board members asked the mayor to investigate the hiring of a supervisor for the work program.
"I think if we can get it organized, it will be a big asset," Morrow said.
Another court matter brought up at the meeting was collection of fines.
Hubbard said the city is currently owed more than $700,000 in outstanding fines.
Autrey asked if it would be possible to allow someone to make partial payments.
"We just can’t do that," Hubbard said. "It will be too much trouble and you would need to hire more people."
McKenzie said the court was not in the financing business.
"We are here to handle corrections," he said. "We want to get these people straightened out so they don’t show up in court every other week.
"If they can’t come up with all the money, that’s what we have banks, finance companies and they have relatives for is to go borrow the money," McKenzie said. "We have a firm and consistent plan, and that needs to continue."
No action was taken on fine collections during the meeting.