The Price of Taxation By Citation: Case Studies of Three Georgia Cities The Rely Heavily on Fines and Fees

The concept of taxation by citation and its subsequent harms are dissected and analyzed in this Institute for Justice report. Through the profiling of three Georgia cities–Morrow, Riverdale, and Clarkston–the authors use traffic and ordinance violation data to suggest that these towns’ use of code enforcement power is geared towards revenue generation rather than public safety. Without adequate legal protections from taxation by citation, residents and visitors alike are susceptible to having their rights and trust violated by law enforcement and courts. 

You can read the full text of the study here.

Key findings
  • On average throughout a five-year period, 14 to 25 percent of the revenues of Morrow, Riverdale, and Clarkston came from fines and fees in comparison to other cities in Georgia of a similar size which only generated three percent of their revenue from fines and fees.
  • Fines and fees revenues in these three cities started to decrease as tax revenues increased, suggesting that they used fines and fees as a way to stabilize their economies around the 2008 recession.
  • Morrow, Riverdale, and Clarkston’s courts processed more cases than other cities of a similar size and the lion’s share of those cases were pleaded out or residents were found guilty.
  • Residents of these three cities who had recently received citations expressed lower levels of trust in the government and its officials than residents who had not been cited recently.
  • There are only a few legal provisions in Morrow, Riverdale, and Clarkston that limit code enforcement powers from being used for purposes  other than public safety.
Dick M. Carpenter II, Ph.D., Kyle Sweetland, and Jennifer McDonald
Institute for Justice