By T.J. Pyette
Havre City Court will no longer be mailing out bills for offenders who have made arrangements to pay their court fees and fines over a period of time.
Beginning Jan. 1, an arrest warrant will be issued immediately to any offenders who have not made their arranged payment, City Judge Joyce Perszyk said.
The change is due to the court's increased workload, Perszyk told the Havre City Council on Monday night while making a plea for additional staff. The court's caseload has nearly doubled since she took office at the end of 1997.
In the first half of fiscal year 1997, Havre City Court saw a total of 1,152 offenders, while in the first half of 2002 that number rocketed to 2,215, Perszyk said.
She said it has become nearly impossible to maintain court services, such as time-pay billing, in the face of such a large increase in workload.
The billing has been done manually because the court's computer program does not have the capability to produce billing statements, Perszyk said. She added that the court must use the program provided by the Montana Supreme Court.
Perszyk's staff consists of one full-time clerk. She also utilizes a senior volunteer whenever possible, but the need for at least one half-time data-entry clerk is critical, she said.
"We are really struggling," and cutting back on the billing practice will ease the load only slightly, Perszyk added.
Perszyk met with Bear Paw Development Corp. at the suggestion of the City Council to explore opportunities for obtaining a grant to hire more help.
She said she was told by Bear Paw that obtaining a grant would be unlikely since the court is not operating "in the red." In fact, Perszyk said, her department's revenue - about $180,000 a year - is nearly double its cost of operation. The city utilizes the revenue to pay expenses in other departments.
City Council member Tom Farnham, who chairs the council's finance committee, said Perszyk asked for additional staff during the budgeting process last year. When a federal grant that paid half of Perszyk's full-time salary was discontinued last year, Perszyk also asked the city to pick up the difference, rather than allowing her position to revert to half time.
Farnham said the committee then voted to make Perszyk's position full time, but that didn't leave any extra funds to hire additional staff.
Perszyk came to the council again a couple of months ago, and council members suggested she approach Bear Paw Development Corp.
"The whole thing is a mess, and (Judge Perszyk) really does need somebody bad," Farnham said Tuesday. "We'll just have to wait and see what happens during the next budgeting process, but right now we're really waiting to see what goes on at the state level before we can determine how our next city budgeting session will go."