Violations that used to go to mayor's court — income tax cases, speeding tickets and other misdemeanor traffic infractions — will transfer to Canton Municipal Court.
NORTH CANTON The city is closing the book on a decades-old practice.
North Canton's Mayor's Court will hear its final cases next month. Violations that used to go to mayor's court — income tax cases, parking violations and other misdemeanor traffic infractions — will transfer to Canton Municipal Court. (Information has been corrected to fix an error. See correction at end of story. 3 p.m./Dec. 15)
Operating the court used more time and resources than it brought in, said Director of Administrative Services Patrick DeOrio.
"Administratively, it's too much to deal with. It takes away from our primary focus. There's huge downside risks financially. And there's a better alternative," he said.
DeOrio, who will take over as the city's director of administration on Jan. 1, began looking at court operations earlier this year.
Any Mayor's Court cases where a defendant plead "not guilty" were transferred to Canton Municipal Court. To make that system work, North Canton had to make sure court functions, such as case numbers, were compatible with municipal court, DeOrio said.
The city also examined the finances involved in running the court.
When the court's clerk retired over the summer, the city began looking at the cost of replacing that position or training other employees to take on those functions, he said.
"It became clear there's no real upside to operating a mayor's court from a financial perspective," he said. "That may have been the case decades ago but not now."
Ohio allows the mayors of municipalities with a population of at least 201 people (Put-In-Bay with a population of 138 is the exception) to hold a court. The court is only permitted to hear violations of local ordinances or state traffic laws.
Contrary to the name, mayor's court cases aren't usually decided by the mayor but instead an appointed magistrate.
Magistrate Derek McClowry has presided over North Canton's court since 2016.
"One of the sad parts to it is that in doing this, we have to say goodbye and thank him for his service," DeOrio said. "He's been such a blessing."
In 2016, 297 Ohio municipalities had a mayor's court, according to the Supreme Court of Ohio.
About 85 percent are in areas with fewer than 10,000 residents.
Including North Canton, Stark County has five mayor's courts. According to the Ohio Supreme Court: East Canton handled 262 cases in 2016; Hartville had 213 cases; Louisville had 250 cases and Minerva had 710 cases.
North Canton had 1,457 cases in 2016.
The number fluctuated significantly year-to-year, DeOrio said.
In lean years, the city may have to subsidize court operations with money from the general fund, he said.
Municipalities with mayor's courts earn money from the court costs attached to tickets.
For example: A speeding ticket in North Canton will cost you about $138. A portion of that, about $35, goes to the police department. The remainder is divvied up between state agencies and the city.
"Very little of what's left was contributing to the ongoing operations of this court," DeOrio said. He estimated that North Canton earned about $50 per ticket.
Tickets issued now are already being processed through the Canton's municipal court.
Tickets in North Canton will increase about $10 to $15, DeOrio said. The police department will collect the same fees per ticket, but the municipal court charges higher court costs.
North Canton police also have a chance to move to an electronic ticketing system through the municipal court. Instead of writing paper tickets, officers can swipe a driver's license and print out a ticket, then send that information electronically to the court.
The city included the equipment in the 2018 budget, DeOrio said. The new system will make it faster and easier for officers to write tickets and eliminate clerical errors, such as transposing numbers on a license plate.
The switch to municipal court also will improve the experience for those who get tickets in North Canton, he said.
If someone plead not guilty in mayor's court, they'd have to plead again in a municipal court hearing. Now, they'll only need to plead once, he said.
The municipal court online ticket payment system functions better than North Canton's and has less fees, he said.
Folks also will see improved customer service.
Municipal court clerks are trained and efficient at handling court matters, he said. "They deal with thousands of calls a year, that's what they do. Here we don't."
In North Canton, clerks have to balance several job functions. If someone called with a question about court or stopped by City Hall to pay a ticket, they often had to wait.
"From our point of view, it became critical that if we want to move into other avenues in 2018, we have to get out of the mayor's court business," he said.
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Correction: Parking violations are handled by the North Canton Police Department, not the city's mayor's court. Information was incorrect when the story was first published 6 a.m. Friday.