The Missouri Supreme Court has denied a motion by the Franklin County Commission to hear a case related to 2020 budget funding of the county juvenile courts.
Instead, it will be reviewed by the state Judicial Finance Commission.
Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker said the county is pleased the case will be reviewed by the statewide commission and hopes to get the issue resolved.
“I’m happy someone is going to take the time to review the entire case instead of passing judgment so swiftly,” Brinker said. “I’m looking forward to a solution and don’t want to drag this out anymore.”
The judicial review stems from a writ of mandamus filed by 20th Judicial Circuit Presiding Judge Ike Lamke against the Franklin County Commission and former auditor Tammy Vemmer in early February.
Lamke filed the writ after the commission opted to not fully fund his budget request for the juvenile courts office, leaving two employees without pay or benefits since Jan. 1.
On Feb. 6, the Eastern District Court of Appeals ruled the county had to fully fund the budget request.
The decision by the court of appeals will cost the county an additional $382,823 and is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2020.
According to court documents, the appeals court ordered the commission to immediately appropriate the total 2020 court’s budget estimate in the amount of $921,331, including the amount budgeted for the juvenile court departments in the amount of $716,346.
Brinker explained the commission only appropriated $333,523, which is the lowest amount the county is required by state statute to give the court for maintenance of effort.
The seven-member Judicial Finance Commission, consisting of four judges and three county commissioners, was established in 1982 to resolve budget disputes between counties and their respective circuit courts.
The commission is empowered with numerous duties: to review petitions from the counties, schedule informal conferences in the geographical area in which the dispute arose in an effort to expeditiously settle disputes; hold hearings so that all parties have the opportunity to present their positions for the record; and issue opinions on the reasonableness of the disputed budget request.
At issue are the two juvenile court employees, who Brinker says are employees of the state being paid by county tax dollars with no accountability to the county.
Juvenile court personnel services for 2019 totaled $185,956, which included regular wages, retirement and insurance.
According to the 2020 budget message, due to legislation, all juvenile court employees became employees of the state of Missouri in July 1999. As mandated by state statute, the portion of the county budget for employee salaries for that office was given a new title of “Maintenance of Effort Funding.”
Brinker explained state statute mandates every county in Missouri to pay some percentage of maintenance of effort for juvenile courts, but the amounts are different in each county based on several factors.
Currently, the Franklin County percentage is $333,523, and that is what the county appropriated for 2020.
“Some time in the 1990s, before us, there was an arrangement that the county would pay more than the base percentage,” Brinker said. “None of the other counties do it. This is nothing more than double taxation.”
Brinker added the county will fully comply with the court’s decision until a further decision is reached by the Judicial Finance Commission.
When the writ was originally filed, Brinker stressed the building in which the circuit courts are housed are owned by Franklin County.
The courts have used the facilities at no cost and although he stopped short of the idea of charging the courts rent, Brinker did say the costs to operate the buildings are being calculated and could become leverage in the future.