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St. Louis Town Agrees to Stop Bankrolling Itself by Fining Its Residents into the Poorhouse

Pagedale, Missouri, will stop trying to fine you for having mismatched curtains or saggy pants.

Valarie WhitnerInstitute for JusticeA small St. Louis suburb has agreed to stop trying bankroll its government with a vicious regime of petty fines so excessive that the town has cited more than a third of its population.

Credit goes to the Institute for Justice, which sued the tiny town of Pagedale (population: 3,300) on behalf of a handful of residents in 2015. Amid the outrage over Michael Brown's death in nearby Ferguson, citizens of these small fiefdoms drew attention to these governments' propensity to bankroll themselves via exorbitant traffic and code enforcement fines.

Pagedale was one of those communities. In the course of a single year, it handed out 2,000 code enforcement citations—almost twice the number of actual households in the city. It tossed out tickets like confetti for a host of really absurd codes, which banned everything from mismatched curtains to holes in window screens to having your pants below your waist to having a barbecue grill or basketball hoop in your front yard to walking on the left side of a crosswalk.

The town's budget depended heavily on these fines. In some years, their proceeds made up a quarter of the city's revenue, according to the Institute for Justice. And the code citations got worse once the state cracked down to stop cities from trying to rake in money from traffic tickets. Eventually, 39 percent of the city's adult population had been fined for some sort of housing violation.

The courts then deliberately rushed through the cases and made it hard for residents to object or respond, saddling some citizens with thousands of dollars in debt. One of the plaintiffs represented by the Institute for Justice received nearly $3,000 in citations which he was struggling to pay off. And because he was spending the money to pay the fines, he couldn't afford the repairs the city demanded, resulting in more citations. Eventually the city threatened to raze his home. Another one of the institute's clients had to turn to payday loans to try to keep up with the fines.

Relief is now on the way. On Friday a federal judge accepted a consent decree from the City of Pagedale to reform its practices. The town has agreed to repeal the parts of municipal code that allowed them to cite citizens for conditions that were not public health or safety hazards. The decree specifically mentions that the aforementioned restrictions on pants, grills, and crosswalk practices will be repealed. The city won't be able to manufacture some sort of public safety excuse to keep them intact.

Furthermore the city will stop prosecuting current cases like these unless the prosecutor can find good cause to do so; will dismiss any additional fines and fees on citizens who have already paid more than their initial fine for a citation; will stop incarcerating people for these municipal violations if they don't have counsel and have not agreed to waive their rights; and will make the courts more accessible, with a broader range of hours and a rule limiting the number of hearings per session to seven, as opposed to the more than 200 proceedings that had previously churned through on some days.

The Institute for Justice is celebrating the win:

"Across the country, the government has resorted to using policing for profit to wrest money from individuals who are often the poorest and most vulnerable among us," said IJ President Scott Bullock. "This case, like IJ's work in fighting civil forfeiture, is a vital part of IJ's efforts to end this abusive and short-sighted practice. Because the Constitution forbids the government from using the justice system as a means to raise revenue, IJ will continue this fight across the country."

Read more about the case here, and read the consent agreement itself here.

Photo Credit: Institute for Justice

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  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Well, there goes their combo.

  • MarioLanza||

    Next year's headlines: Taxes go up 300% in Pagedale, MO

    The year after's headlines: Taxpayers flee Pagedale MO while drug addicts move in

    There will be consequences. There are always consequences.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    Institute for Justice

    "Look! The eagles!"

    -Nazgul screech in terror-

  • Eidde||

    In unrelated news, the baggy-pants tax just went up 1000%.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    First they came for the baggy-pants and I said nothing.

    Then they came for the 20 year-old jokes, and there was no one to speak for me.

  • Hugh Akston||

    It tossed out tickets like confetti for a host of really absurd codes, which banned everything from mismatched curtains to holes in window screens to having your pants below your waist to having a barbecue grill or basketball hoop in your front yard to walking on the left side of a crosswalk.

    Why not just get rid of laws against murder and child molestation while you're at it? I wish I could say I was surprised to see a writer like Reason coming out against law and order. I really do.

  • AustinRoth||

    You are equating murder and child molestation laws with mismatched curtains? Good to see you have a sense of proportionality.

  • Ben of Houston||

    Don't feed the trolls, Austin.

  • Finrod||

    Can we kill you first?/

  • No Yards Penalty||

    Just signed in to say, Hugh, you suck.

  • Telcontar the Wanderer||

    #NoSuchThingAsBenefitOfTheDoubt

  • HGW xx/7||

    Comic Book Guy: "So, ha! Take that East Saint Louis!"

  • Tony||

    Mismatched curtain panels may be a bold move, but I can see it happening in a maximalist design aesthetic. Fuck da police.

  • Tony||

    Just as I suspected, mismatched panels has the Pinterest seal of approval.

  • Jerryskids||

    It's the broken windows theory of policing - you let the little stuff slide and pretty soon you're living in a shithole like North St. Louis.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    The town has agreed to repeal the parts of municipal code that allowed them to cite citizens for conditions that were not public health or safety hazards.

    So the mismatched curtains thing still stands?

  • Eidde||

    The town has a literal fashion police?

  • Tom Bombadil||

    "Credit goes to the Institute for Justice, which sued the tiny town of Pagedale (population: 3,300) on behalf of a handful of residents in 2015."

    So, Pagedale only has elections every 100 years? Is that why the lawsuit was necessary?

  • RevengencerAlf||

    Take note that a third of residents are being cited. If the other 2/3 area happy to have their town funded by gouging the rest they certainly aren't going to disrupt it by electing someone who will fix the problem.

  • RPGuy16||

    Hey it works for the federal government.

  • Ogre||

    the real question is, why are none of the government employees involved going to prison?

  • John C. Randolph||

    That sounds like the kind of situation that calls for torches, tar and feathers.

    -jcr

  • Reverendcaptain||

    something tells me the town is simply going to find another underhanded way to bring in revenues.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Have their federal representative serve up some pork, probably...

  • ConstitutionFirst||

    One guess: They primarily vote Democrat. Come'on, prove me wrong. You know i'm right on this.

  • KevinP||

    The town is 93% black so it's a foregone conclusion.

    Why are liberal Democrat cities so dangerous and oppressive to minorities?

    Ferguson, Missouri, an overwhelmingly black and Democratic city:

    Washington Post: Ferguson shows how a police force can turn into a plundering 'collection agency'


    Quote:
    The amount of revenue siphoned through citations rose 56 percent between 2011 and 2014 — from $1.4 million to $2.3 million — which netted the city a tidy tribute. So when the chief of police reported that his team had "beat our next biggest month in the last four years" in revenue collection, the city manager had one reaction.

    "Wonderful!" he said.
  • BillyG||

    I know. I sometimes wish conservatives and libertarians would stop protecting Democrats from themselves. Just let the Democrats run areas go to hell in a handbasket.

  • great Unknown||

    I thought judges are assumed to be fair *cough* *cough*

  • Mark22||

    Leave it to the HuffPo to try to turn this into something racist:

    This City Is Fining Black Residents For Having Weeds In Their Gardens

    Demographics:

    The racial makeup of the city was 3.4% White, 93.4% African American, 0.2% Native American, 0.2% Asian, 0.6% from other races, and 2.2% from two or more races.

    (Incidentally, lots of people get fined for weeds in their garden.)

  • Alcibiades||

    IJ = actually fights for and defends the Constitution

    ACLU = useless, only interested in raking in money and couldn't give a fuck about the Constitution

  • Jay Dee||

    About damned time. Now go get Ferguson, Kirkwood and Bella Villa.

  • JeremyR||

    And Byrne's MIll (in Jefferson County).

  • KevinP||

    The city is 93% black. I wonder what percentage voted Dem? As always, the progressive cities are the worst.

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