SACRAMENTO, Calif. — City of Sacramento leaders have begun a new initiative to help understand how fines and fees impact the lives of their residents, especially for lower-income residents and communities of color.
Starting Saturday, city leaders will host virtual conversations as part of the national Cities & Counties for Fine and Fee Justice Program over Zoom. These virtual meetings will continue to occur every third Saturday of the month from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. for the next several months.
The city and county of Sacramento were selected in May 2020 to participate in the program, which aims to reform certain fines and fees that may cause a disproportionate burden on lower-income residents and communities of color.
"I am an example of just a horrific outcome when you are fined and there are very poor, bad practices at maintenance of data and the city and county level," explained Resident Zuri K. Colbert.
Colbert says she has been experiencing issues since she was confused with another person, who has a similar name and who received a parking ticket. She explained in the Zoom call that she has even had her taxes intercepted due to the mix-up.
"When you have someone’s name mixed with someone else, and it’s not your life, and it’s not any of the things that you’ve done or did, there’s a big problem," Colbert said. "There’s a domino effect even after you possibly may correct it. This has happened with revenue recovery. My taxes were intercepted, I mean, absolutely horrible. They returned the money but they kept the horrible thing that they intercepted it for on my tax record."
Staff from various city departments are part of the initiative, working together to identify opportunities for fine and fee reduction and reform. Those departments include the Sacramento Police Department, Community Development, Public Works, Finance, Utilities, Fire, Youth Parks & Community Enrichment and Convention and Cultural Services.
Residents who participate in the Zoom calls are asked to take a survey to help city and county leaders figure out which fines and fees need to be reworked.
“From doing the research that I was able to gather, there’s a lot of fines and fees that we don’t even know may impact our lives," said Khalil Ferguson, the data analyst supporting the fines and fees initiative. "We arbitrarily pay [fines and fees], that may not be realized that are fines and fees that go to the city or county.”
According to a press release from the city of Sacramento, city leaders are committed to reforming at least three fines and fees.
One resident suggested turning toward community service rather than monetary fines and fees.
"What I see here is like, instead of us having to pay, I would appreciate, say you owe $2500 of restitution, we’re gonna have a few workgroups and projects where we’re gonna go help these elderly communities," explained Community Organizer Henry Ortiz. "People need to be treated with dignity and respect so that they can be encouraged to want to pay off their debt to society or their fees and also by helping those who are disadvantaged rather than fining them, put them in the program where we take care of that for them because it's part of our debt. Instead of paying financial debt, we pay through labor and community service."
The personal stories told by residents will be collected on an ongoing basis. If you are unable to attend one of the virtual meetings, share your story by emailing the city at CE@cityofsacramento.org.