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Ferris: “Restore Funding For Judges”

Ray Ferris
Ray Ferris

Councilman Ray Ferris offered a resolution at Monday’s city council meeting requesting that Governor Bob McDonnell restore funding for three retiring judge positions in the Commonwealth’s budget. The resolution argues that the loss of three judges in the 23rd judicial circuit would impose a hardship on citizens seeking relief from the courts.

McDonnell has bucked his party in the past by approving the transportation package that will bring passenger rail and business to the Roanoke Valley and Ferris said he is hoping he will do it again.

The average case load figures for the 23rd circuit may not be as high as in other jurisdictions. Ferris argued that judges in the Juvenile and Domestic Relation’s Court are among the five busiest. He said that newly filed cases prove that the caseload would increase from 4700 per judge to 6000 per judge with the loss of a judge.

“The Circuit Court is a zero sum game – it is quite frankly to keep the funding here …  Those judgeships will just move to other jurisdictions,” said Ferris. The resolution asks McDonnell to revisit the budget policy to fund more judges. It is about access to the courts. Criminal cases take precedence over civil cases, explained Ferris. Civil litigation may get bumped with waits extending up to one year. “We ought not settle for that,” said Ferris.

Councilman Sherman Lea wanted to know what the Roanoke metro area legislators thought about the reduction of judges. Ferris said he had asked them individually and all are in support except Salem Delegate Greg Habeeb. Ferris said that his conversation with him “disintegrated into numbers.”

According to Ferris during the negotiations to garner support for the transportation bill, Delegate Onzlee Ware, who was on the committee, said he was strongly in favor of maintaining the judgeships. Ferris said that Delegate Ware told him that the nature of compromise took a toll on the judgeships when the final bill emerged from the committee.

In other business:

Roanoke City residents can expect a slightly higher personal property tax on their city vehicles this year. The $8.1 million from the Commonwealth calculates out to tax relief of 59.89% for 2013. That is down from the 2012 rate of 64.75%.

Director of Finance Ann Shawver explained that the personal property vehicle tax relief that was once targeted for total elimination during the campaign and governorship of Jim Gilmore will continue to decline. “There have been some ups and downs,” said Shawver but since the allocation stays flat as vehicle values grow citizens will have to pay a higher and higher percent of their vehicle property tax.

All city residents are eligible for the 59.89% reduction on the first $20,000 of vehicle value but when the values of vehicles go up the cost to citizens goes up too, said Shawver. Vehicles valued at $1000 and under pay no personal property tax.

Mayor Bowers announced that six applications for the school board were received before the cutoff date. Citizens wishing to advocate for any of the applicants will be heard at a public hearing on April 15 at 7:00 p.m. Interviews will be conducted in open session during the 2:00 session on the same day.

The applicants include the two current school board members Annette Lewis and Suzanne Moore. The other four applicants are Narad Kadariya, Charles R. Medlinger, Mary B. Nash and Maxyne D. Trumpeter.

Other announcements:

There will be a ground breaking for the West End branch of Freedom First Credit Union at 10 a.m. on March 21 at the West End Center.

City Council created an Election Precincts Task Force to review a proposed realignment of voting precincts. Public hearings will take place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 28, and at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 9, in City Council Chambers.

 City residents may review maps of the current voting precincts and the proposed realignment of voting precincts in the City Clerk’s Office located in Room 456 of the Noel C. Taylor Municipal Building, at 215 Church Ave.

 By Valerie Garner

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