MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In Hennepin County alone, people paid nearly $60 million in court fees last year — mostly from people who got caught doing something wrong on the road.
Karl Kohn of West St. Paul contributed to that pot with two speeding tickets of his own. Each set him back $145. So, he wondered: “When you get a ticket where does the money from your fine go?”
According to Mark Thompson, the district court administrator for Hennepin County, the fees are set by state statute.
Most counties in Minnesota follow a similar formula.
“They’re not necessarily a tax, they’re a way to partially offset some of the cost of public safety,” Thompson said.
Of the $145 fine, $75 of is a surcharge that goes to a state fund. Legislator use that money for things like education, domestic violence advocacy and conservation projects.
“There’s almost a list as long as your forearm of the things that are funded out of the surcharge,” he said.
There’s also a $3 fee that goes toward county law libraries. After that, the rest of the money in Hennepin County is split: 80 percent goes to the cities and 20 percent goes to the state’s general fund. In St. Paul, the split is two-thirds to the city and one-third to the state. In the Ramsey County cities outside of St. Paul, the city and state split it 50-50. In Chisago County, the money is also split 50-50 between the city and general fund. For all other counties, two-thirds goes to the city and one-third goes to the state.
“We send them a check every month, pursuant to law, and they do with what they want. Most of those cities you’ll find fund police officers, squad cars, training, Kevlar vests, guns, things that they need for a police officer to do their job,” Thompson said.
He says 88 percent of people in Hennepin County pay their fines when they get a ticket. Others fight it in court and those who ignore it end up hearing from a collection agency.
Each year, the cities in Hennepin County bring in about $17 million from moving violations tickets.
“It equates to the cost of about 225 police officers,” Thompson said. “But know there are several thousand police officers in Hennepin County, so they don’t make the kind of money people think they do.”