Analysis: Georgia cities see big bucks through fines, forfeitures

(The Center Square) — Two Georgia cities received more than three-quarters of their general revenue from fines and forfeitures, a new analysis from the Reason Foundation found.

While Lenox (79.7%) and Warwick (76.9%), both in south Georgia, topped the list, five Peach State cities — including Oliver, Hiltonia, and Rocky Ford — collected at least half of their total revenues from such sources. Additionally, the analysis of 478 cities revealed that nearly three dozen Georgia cities (34) collected fines and forfeitures totaling at least 20% of their total revenue in 2019, while 81 collected fines totaling at least 10%.

“Georgia law currently allows the Department of Public Safety to revoke speed detection device permits from cities where speeding ticket revenue exceeds 35% of the police agency budget,” Vittorio Nastasi, director of criminal justice policy, wrote in an analysis. “However, the law is rarely enforced and, as this data analysis reveals, it is insufficient to rein in policing for profit in Georgia. State lawmakers should consider stronger limits, such as those recently adopted in Alabama.”

“While reform efforts may reduce local government revenues, curtailing revenue-oriented policing would improve public safety and enhance the public’s trust in local law enforcement,” Nastasi added.

According to Reason, which used 2019 data from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs’ Report on Local Government Finances to compile its analysis, in 2019, local jurisdictions across the Empire State of the South collected more than $158.1 million — an average of $330,940 — in fines and forfeitures.

While smaller cities collect a higher portion of their revenues from fines and forfeitures, the state’s larger cities collect higher dollar amounts. Atlanta, for example, collected $25 million, while three other metro Atlanta cities — Duluth, Marietta and Sandy Springs Duluth collected between $2.5 and $3 million in 2019.