I bring to your attention today this recent glimpse at municipalities that generate a considerable portion of their city revenue, relative to population, through fines and court fees. It’s loaded with small towns in North Texas.
Governing magazine conducted a national analysis on city budgets that revolve around this type of revenue. Texas is one of six states registering the majority of localities gouging residents to pull in more cash. The money comes from speeding or parking tickets, traffic cameras, or other city ordinance violations. Dig into the interactive map accompanying the piece and you see the local municipalities taking in hefty portions of fines and fees as defined by Governing—either 10 percent of general revenues or $100 per resident.
Geographically, Cockrell Hill sits closest to the heart of Dallas, and the town of some 4,250 brought in 20.2 percent of its revenue through fines and fees last year—about $677,000 in all. That’s $225 per resident. Farmers Branch brought in $2.7 million in revenue this way, equal to $104 for each of its 37,000 residents. With Farmers Branch’s healthy tax base, that’s just 3.1 percent of its total revenue.
Sunnyvale amassed 6.4 percent of its revenue via fines and fees, good for $548,000 and $126 per resident. Wilmer pulled in a comparable $560,000, accounting for 13.3 percent. Also on the map are Ferris, Crandall, Copper Canyon, Hickory Creek, Argyle, Northlake, Roanoke, Richland Hills, and Forest Hill, among others in North Texas.
It’s an interesting look at what some surrounding small towns choose to do to meet their money needs, or wants. It also might be a cautionary tale for folks driving through these areas. When it comes to speeding tickets, Governing found that local cops tend to target out-of-towners. And although the revenue can come from many kinds of fines, a 2016 Dallas Observer piece on DFW’s speed trap towns hints that speeding tickets could be a considerable piece of the puzzle. That story calls out several of the same cities, including Farmers Branch, Cockrell Hill, and Wilmer.