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New Cities Added To Attorney General Lawsuit Over Traffic Fines

Attorney General Chris Koster announced the lawsuit in St. Louis.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

Update on March 24, 2015 at 4:30 p.m. with cities dropped from lawsuit:

Attorney General Chris Koster says he has voluntarily dismissed claims against eight municipalities he previously sued for allegedly violating the Mack's Creek law. 
The dismissal came after those cities submitted or re-filed annual financial reports to the state auditor that detailed revenue derived from traffic fines and court costs. 
The lawsuit against Hillsdale, Moline Acres and Normandy is still pending. 

Updated at 4:00 p.m. with comments from Koster, additional details.

Four more tiny municipalities in north St. Louis County are facing legal action for their failure to comply with a state law limiting how much cities can collect in traffic fines per year. 

Attorney General Chris Koster announced Thursday that he had added Hanley Hills, Kinloch, Velda City and Calverton Park as defendants in a lawsuit filed Dec. 18th to enforce what's known as the "Mack's Creek law." The law says that municipal fines and court costs may make up no more than 30 percent of a city's revenue.

Koster said Hanley Hills and Kinloch failed to submit annual financial reports to state auditor Tom Schweich, a claim confirmed by a spokesman for the office. Koster said Calverton Park's report showed the city is collecting more than 40 percent of its revenue from fines and fees, and that Velda City did not correctly calculate its revenue percentage.

"There has been fairly casual compliance with the Mack's Creek law," Koster said. "The lessons of Ferguson really reminded us that this state law has a real important purpose and there are consequences for failure to comply with it." He said while the focus has been on North County because of the problems revealed there by Michael Brown's death, other cities are not exempt from the law.

Officials with Hanley Hills did not return a call for comment. Justine Blue, the city manager in Kinloch, said the city had been cooperating with Koster's office since last week. She said she was surprised to hear it had been added to the suit. Calverton Park attorney Stephanie Clark said she did not feel comfortable commenting, as she had just taken her position Jan. 1. Velda City mayor Robert Hensley said he had not seen the lawsuit. The attorney for Velda City, Stephen Garrett, did not return a call for comment.

Koster also announced on Thursday that six of the cities originally named in the suit -- Beverly Hills, Breckenridge Hills, Pagedale, Pasadena Park, Mackenzie and Crystal Lake Park -- were now in compliance with the law and had been dropped from the case. And he said two other cities -- Pine Lawn and Bella Villa -- had sent a total of $231,000 in excess fine and fee revenue back to the state. That's more than 12 times the amount remitted to the state in the past four years total.

""Overall, what we are seeing is increased compliance with the Mack's Creek law, which is the goal of the lawsuit since its inception, Koster said. "Our goal is to bring compliance with Mack's Creek law into reality. We're not trying to break these cities financially. They are all part of our governmental mission."

State lawmakers are consideringa measure that would reduce the Mack's Creek threshold to 10 percent. North County mayors told a Senate committee on Wednesday that lowering the percentage could lead to cuts in important programs.


Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.