Judge proposes litigation tax increase to help Loudon court system

LOUDON — A fourfold increase in the tax charged to litigants in Loudon County could be used to pay for a new judge to relieve overcrowding in the court system.

General Sessions Court Judge Rex Dale told Loudon County commissioners at a workshop earlier this week that one way to help pay for a second judge would be to increase the “litigation tax” charged to those who use the court system.

Dale said he handles five jurisdictions and closes more than 50 cases each day, working 60 to 75 hours per week, including weekends. He has been asking commission for more help since last year.

According to Dale, the county’s population has grown 112 percent since 1959, when the General Sessions Court was established..

Circuit Court Clerk Lisa Niles has also complained about overcrowding in the courts. Her office is involved with litigation with the county to provide more resources and personnel.

A proposal to bring in a second judge and several judicial commissioners at a cost of up to $150,000 is being scrutinized by commissioners, along with plans for a new jail and court complex that could cost $12 million to $47 million. The projects would require a property tax increase estimated between 5 cents and 20 cents.

According to Judge Dale, there is a way to fund the courts without increasing property taxes. Litigants currently pay a tax of about $17, generating about $79,000 revenue per year.

The tax is regulated by a state law passed in 2005 and is based on the amount paid to judges. Loudon County hasn’t raised its litigation tax since 2008. Blount County charges a litigation tax of $42.25 in General Sessions Court and $43.25 in Circuit Court.

Dale proposed increasing the litigation tax by $51.97 for a total of $68.97, a fourfold increase, based on salaries of both judges. An increase of $14.29 would be possible with one judge.

Tax increases, however, are generally unpopular, noted Commissioner Van Shaver. Putting the burden on criminals sounds like a more popular way of generating revenue but it doesn’t always work that way, he said.

“Bad people don’t pay their bills,” he said.

The litigation tax would affect not just those in criminal court, but others using the court system, including civil cases such as divorces and child custody, he said.

“These are the people who actually pay their bills. This tax would put more of a burden on them than criminals,” Shaver said.

Commissioner Harold Duff questioned Dale about whether relieving the court system would have a direct effect on relieving the crowding in the jail. The Loudon County jail is currently facing an order to alleviate overcrowding.

“It be cheaper to have a second judge than $47 million for a new jail,” he said.