Saving cash, keeping the city clean

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 10, 2003

Twenty-two years after it began, the Ironton Municipal Court's community service program continues to save the city a fortune and beautify the community at the same time.

It remains something that Judge Clark Collins Jr. is extremely proud of and passionate about.

Started when he took office in 1982, the program was one of the first community service programs in the state and was used as a model for other court systems, Collins said.

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"The program is just as important today as it was 22 years ago," he said. "It is a win-win situation that has been tremendously successful and we will continue to do it.

"It has so many positive aspects to it. In these tough financial times, this type of program is needed as a cost savings to local government and the tax payers, to reduce jail overcrowding and it is a giving-back process for those who are paying their price for wrongdoings, but at the same time the community benefits from the work performed. "

The original goal was primarily to reduce jail costs because the city was facing one of its toughest financial periods in its history. At that time, it cost $18 to $20 per day to keep someone in the county jail. The importance has only grown now that costs have risen to $50 per day, he said.

On the average, the program saves the city about $250,000 a year in labor costs and jail housing expenses. Since its inception, the program has probably saved millions of dollars, Collins said.

In 2002, Collins ordered 1,754 days of community service with each person working for six and a half hours a day. If these 11,401 hours are multiplied by $5.50 these people provided the community with approximately $60,000 in labor.

"It has just been a tremendous program and a great alternative to jail," Collins said. "The individual benefits by being able to do something positive for the community and go out and do something beneficial."

People who are given community service include misdemeanor offenders, such as driving on a suspended licenses, offenders who are serving mandatory jail time but can work to reduce their sentences and others who cannot afford to pay their fines and court costs.

Each case is judged individually, but the average sentence is 10 to 15, six and a half hour work days, Collins said.

Continuous service projects include litter cleanup and landscaping and grass cutting all across the county, cleaning the Ironton City Center, maintaining some small cemeteries in the townships and much more.

Special projects include preparing the ground for the Patriot's Path in

Woodland Cemetery, preparation and cleanup for the Memorial Day Parade, helping out at the Catholic school's Charity Fair and other seasonal projects.

In his fourth year as the director of the community service program, Jerry Rowe agrees that it has been a real asset to the county.

"It would be amazing to see what the city and riverbanks would look like if the court had not started this program," he said. "A lot of times people look for something negative, but any court that does not have a program like this is really missing out."

Rowe works closely with the mayor, township trustees and anyone else

who needs an area targeted.

Overall, most of people who do the community service are people who just made bad decisions, he said.

"A lot of them are hard workers and good guys. I guess they just do not have the guidance," he said. "I do not play favorites and I treat them all the same. I would not ask them to do anything that I would not do myself."

Collins said he has always gotten great support from the city and the townships. He is excited about expanding the program in the future.

In September and October, the community service program will focus solely on cleaning up the alleys in Ironton. In addition to picking up trash and disposing of items for residents, the workers will cut grass and brush all across the city's alleys.

Jim Kratzenberg, director of the intensive supervised probation department for the court, recently gave the Ironton City Council an update on the last year's financial reports.

In 2002, the court handled a total of 7,811 new cases, 5,558 were from traffic citations. The court also handled 1,553 criminal cases, 628 civil cases and 72 transfers from other courts.

As one of the only department's in the city that is self-sufficient, the court had an income of $464,995 but only spent $417,294. This leaves the department with $47,701 in carryover.

Collins said the court will give this to the city to add to the general fund.