Blue Ridge Preps Budget for New Fine Fund

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The Blue Ridge City Council approved the creation of a new fund last week in the form of a budget amendment during its monthly city council meeting. According to City Manager Bill Sowers the fund was a request by the city’s finance officer Alicia Stewart and is necessary to complete its 2012 budget.

Sowers said the purpose of the fund is to separate money collected from fines and forfeitures by the police department, meaning money or property seized from criminals.

Earlier this year, the ability to seize criminal money and property was threatened by House Bill One in the Georgia Legislature. The bill, called the Georgia Uniform Forfeiture Procedure Act, would have made it more difficult for law enforcement agencies to access these items from criminals. Some advocacy groups called for reform and the ability to restrict access to these items. Institute for Justice legal counsel Lee McGrath at the time was vocal about getting the bill passed. McGrath calls Georgia’s forfeiture laws some of the “worst” in the country, saying that law enforcement agencies get to keep up to 100 percent of the proceeds of the property they seize. Other groups involved in the effort included the Southern Center for Human Rights and the NAACP.

In March, Pickens County Sheriff Donnie Craig wrote an open letter encouraging law enforcement to oppose the bill and representatives to vote against it.

“The most effective and valuable tool the Georgia Law Enforcement community has,”

he wrote,

“that really does harm to the illicit drug dealers and other criminals has been current seizure and forfeiture laws, These laws have enabled us, after judicial processes are completed, to take cars, cash and property of criminals.”

The Georgia Law Enforcement Community went down to the capitol the day it was voted on. The bill was removed and seemingly dying on the legislative vine.

Financial Director Stewart told FYN that money collected from fines and forfeitures must be kept separate. She went on to say in the past the city had not collected money from forfeitures, but now it had, so it was required to establish a fund in the budget for the money. According to the budget amendment passed last week, $5,000 will be deposited in the fund.

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