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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Constables Cost Counties Money

Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham has proposed that deputy sheriffs assume the role of constables in collecting unpaid parking tickets in Allentown. President Judge Bill Platt, no friend of Cunningham, can see the savings. ''This is not anti-constable. This is pro-taxpayer.''

Naturally, blogger Michael Molovinsky scoffs at the very notion, deriding Cunningham as "a little Eddie Rendell in training pant" and as "Don Bureaucrat Cunningham." Lehigh County Exec candidate Scott Ott also questions the idea, minus the vitriol. "[I]t seems like common sense to use contractors who charge only for results, rather than to bring that task in house and assume the ongoing care and feeding, nursing and retirement of full-time government employees."

Here are the facts. Constables cost counties money. When indigent Defendants are unable to pay the costs associated with serving a warrant, the county foots the bill. In 2007, for example, Northampton County taxpayers shelled out nearly a million dollars in constable fees that they will never get back. This is in addition to fees that constables collect from defendants who have the means to pay. Cunningham's proposal will spare taxpayers that expense while simultaneously making them the beneficiaries of fees that defendants can afford. It is innovative fiscal management, demonstrating precisely why he belongs at the helm.

In addition to these financial reasons, there's another concern. Constables, who are independent contractors with no oversight, sometimes lack the training demanded by the job. This point was driven home by a reader who had a bad experience on Monday night.

"I rent a townhouse at [redacted] in Bethlehem, PA. Last night while making dinner we received a knock at the door. My roommate and I secured the dogs by putting them downstairs and he answered the door, I hung back but was interested to see who it was. The gentleman at the door was a large black man with a shaved head wearing a large, visible pistol on the front of his belt. Apparently this man was a constable, we didn’t know because he failed to identify himself. He was looking for our landlord, who someone had filed a civil complaint against because he hadn’t paid a bill. The constable asked for our landlord by name, was told he didn’t live there and he sneered in disbelief. He then demanded to know who we were, sneering again in disbelief when we told him. He continued to stand in our doorway, never telling us who he was or why he was there until he produced a paper and said 'you better make sure he gets this.'

"This man clearly had the intent of trying to intimidate us. He never identified himself or had anything on him that would have led us to assume he was a lawman of any kind. He was confrontational and menacing all in the name of serving a warrant for an unpaid bill for someone that doesn’t live there.

"I don’t think this is the kind of thing a person should have to endure. When someone shows up at your front door wearing a weapon and trying to intimidate you he should immediately identify himself.

"Anyway, I wanted to file a complaint against this guy but everyone I call seems to have the perfect excuse for not doing anything about it because I couldn’t give them his name. I don’t know it and it was no where on the paperwork he gave us to pass on to our landlord. I was hoping you could point me in the right direction and maybe even give me this man’s name. "

"I greatly appreciate any help you can give, no one deserves to be treated like that in their own home."

I was able to get the name of this constable, but there's still a problem. My reader tells me this constable is black, but this person is white. When I sort things out, I'll let you know.


michael molovinsky said...

bernie, you write "this is the fact" then link to figures from northampton county to justify cunningham's proposal in lehigh county. over the years i have known many constables, they work 24/7. although cunningham lusts after a piece of the parking authority's chain gang loot, we will be paying for the legacy costs of 5 more employee's. before you know it pawlowski will propose that the allentown police serve those warrants and then pawlowski and cunningham will have a wrestling match at the allentown fair to decide the winner, with platt as referee. meanwhile both bureaucrats will be suggesting that the parking authority issues more tickets to feed the costs. what a plan...., no thank you.

michael molovinsky said...

here is the "fact" from the morning call on cunningham's proposal;

"County administrator Tom Muller provided figures that indicate county taxpayers subsidize the parking warrant operation by about $360,000 a year. The county would eliminate that expense and, even after hiring five deputy sheriffs and a clerical employee to do the work, it projects breaking even in 2010 and bringing in several hundred thousand dollars a year after that."

to hire 5 deputies and assume their legacy costs to go after $360,000 in savings only could make sense to a bureaucrat. i suggest that donny look around at the existing departments and functions to save money, and not attempt to do so by expanding the bureaucracy

Volvo Driving Soccer Mom said...

I will stay on topic, having had to work with constables on occasion.
There are far too many bad constables, who make a joke of what I believe is ACT 44 Certification. There are good constables, who are elected and take their job seriously.
The problem in Allentown is that Constables get elected as part of political who you know system and have no qualifications.
Some of those people have no clue what integrity and professionalism is, they just want to feel important and carry a firearm, which is a recipe for disaster.

Now to go a bit off topic, can't certain anons find something better to do each day than "TROLL" the Internet looking for places to post their unwelcome snarks?

I guess not.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Yes, this is a good idea because it ensures more professional conduct from people who are actually supervised. Moreover, despite the usual disparaging remarks and vain attempt to paint Cunningham as some sort of spendthrift, the uncontroverted evidence this far is that this will save money. This is consistent with what I've seen constables cost Northampton County. If it does not, 5 Comm'rs who actually attend the meetings and listen to everyoe will iote against it.

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

I will respectfully disagree with your assessment on this issue. I don't believe that hiring 6 deputy sheriffs for the collection of warrants will reap any monetary benefits for the county yet alone quality of life benefits for the municipality where I live in Allentown. Which ultimatley results in costs to all of us.
Currently, one magisterial district office in center city utilizes 6 constables collecting close to 1 million dollars in fines and fees. When I look at the proposed effort - we will be adding 6 deputy sheriffs - one per office. They will be paid benefits, be given cars, gas, we will need to pay for their training, liability insurance, uniforms, and equipment annually. More than likely they will have set hours - determined by whom I honestly do not know. I look at the cost but what about the cost to the community for the outstanding warrants? I view that as quite high. After two years unserved these warrants (scofflaw)become ( I don't know the legal term) "void". The county also will be raising the price on certain fees making those with little money having to pay more money or go to jail. Right now the District Magistrates hire and fire constables. They can fire for being unproductive, not living in the area where they were elected to serve and for behaviour unbecoming a constable. Don't you think that the magistrates should utilize what services are available to them for their offices to run most effectively- for they were elected by their constituents as well? I view this as the Free Market system. I still don't believe this government program will be more efficient or lucrative than those whose livelihood depends upon it.

I'm sure there are some persons who give constables a bad name. I won't question your story because I am unaware of it. But I also know there is bad in everything. As someone wise in law enforcement once told me, we hire from the human race and are bound to get the occaisional bad apple once in a while. Just my opinion.

Kim Beitler

Bernie O'Hare said...

To the "Judge" and Kim,

Thanks your both for your remarks. To your honor, it is true that a magistrate will just stop using a constable if he gets too many bad reports. Your point is valid.

And Kim, you point out the costs associated with full-time county workers.

What I'm pointing out, and something that is not generally known, is that constables do end up costing counties money. In Northampton County, it was $1 MM per year in '07. In LC, which deals with the parking authority, I'm sure the figure is higher.

Kim, many downtown residents are no or low income, as you know. So the county ends up paying the bill. If the county can do this itself, it saves the fees that would otherwise be paid to constables.

What's the bottom line? If the bottom line results in a savings, then the county should do it. If it does not, then leave it alone. Rather than condemn the idea out of hand, I'd explore it.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"bernie, you write 'this is the fact' then link to figures from northampton county to justify cunningham's proposal in lehigh county."

This is a distortion of the point I make in my post, and that point is that constables cost counties money. In January, I posted a blog showing exactly how much money they cost NC in '07. It is entirely reasonable to conclude that LC, which is larger and has the A0-town Parking Authority, costs even more.

I am interested in seeing counties explore ways to save money, and this may very well be one of them. I would not dismiss an idea outright just because it comes from a Democrat, as you have done with the "little Rendell in training pants" snark.

I appreciate the comments from people who actually use facts to support their arguments, as opposed to grade school name-calling. That may endear you to Bobby Gunther Walsh, but has no meaning in terms of this specific proposal. It is a classic ad hominem, offered only to slur the person. The focus here is not personalities but whether this idea saves money. If it does, the county should try it. if it does not, the 5 Comm'rs will say no.

michael molovinsky said...

mr. o'hare, your assuming that those fee's paid to the constables will be less than the salary and legacy cost of adding deputies to the sheriff's department. your also dismissing my expertise because of the training pants comment on my blog, which is not here in my previous submitted comment. i believe you're engaging in an ad hominem attack, also referring to bobby gunther, again not included in my submitted comment or even my post on my blog.
i have used dozens of constables hundreds of times, and know that they're not 9 to 5ivers. my observation is based on experience, your dismissal of my point of view is based on snarks. btw, the commissioners are not experts on who can serve warrants more effectively, and can only take their best guess

Bernie O'Hare said...


As I said, argue the issue, not the personality. I have every right to note your failure in that regard. This includes your own link to Bobby Gunther Walsh and your "little Rendell in training pants" snark. If you don't like being called out, stop the unnecessary snarks.

As I've also said, I would not dismiss an idea that might save money, as you did, simply because it comes from a Democrat. I'd instead explore the idea and determine whether it actually does save money.

The one point you do make is that self-employed constables do not get paid unless they actually work, unlike deputies. That should be considered in whatever is decided. But in the end, the determination should be governed by what saves the county money, not your personal relationship w/ some constables or your obvious disdain for Cunningham. Forget the politics and snarks, if you can, and look at the bottom line. If it saves money, do it. If it doesn't, don't. This should be math, not politics.

Now you slam the comm'rs, too, and before they decided anything, claiming they are not experts on constables like you. True, they are rank amateurs. They are an assorted bunch that extends from a nurse to a pig farmer to a geologist to a financial wizard. The people elcted them to make these decisions, not you. If you wish to propose replacing a Democratic form of government with some sort of Molovinsky dictatorship, start a revolution.

michael molovinsky said...

bernie, your reply to me contains the very snarks and personal attack you falsely accuse me of, quite ironic. over the years, as a property manager, i get calls from all sorts of people in law enforcement, looking for leads on people who have moved from one place to another. often i'm amazed how old their addresses and/or information is; i find the constables are often more efficient/effective than their uniformed counterpoints. you're saying i'm against the idea just because it's from cunningham, not true, but perhaps your defending a poor idea because it's from cunningham. i've made no slam on the commissioners, i've simply said just because they approve an idea doesn't mean it will save the taxpayer's money; your molovinsky dictator comment was simply aggression.

Bernie O'Hare said...

No, you did note that Comm'rs are not experts. I'm telling you that in a democratic form of government, we rely on pig farmers to provide oversight. If you find this distasteful to your sophisticated intellectual capacity, start a revolution.

Now you've had your say. If you want to continue to berate me and others, do it on your own blogs.

Anonymous said...

Bernie and others I will add my perspective on being a constable and doing the work.

Bernie when you quote figures do we know how much the constable's are bringing in?

Don't forget that on every docket and not including warrants a $15.50 fee is added by the county for the county to pay constable fees for those defendants that are jailed and not able to pay?

Did you ask how much is in that "account"?

I for one want to see it happen in Lehigh County.....in less then 6 months it will be back to constables.

As soon as the City of Allentown and the parking authority see their checks diminishing they will raise a stink.

Do you have any idea how much $$$ the constables are bringing in in Lehigh and Northampton Counties.

If I own a business and I have say 3 million coming in and I only have to pay 360k a year in overhead, I would say that is an excellent business and at no cost to the taxpayers.

Bernie, years ago the courts started to give parking warrants to the Allentown police department. Those warrants stacked up and only got served when they had contact with a person who had a parking warrant. As the story goes they arrested one of these defendants and couldn't get the person arraigned in night court because the sitting judge won't handle a parking ticket warrant (we as constables already know that and work around our judges to not do this). Allentown police let the guy sit in their hold over until Monday morning when the court opened. Guess what happened to their warrants then?

Also realize that the Sheriffs are NOT going to work these warrants and find these people, oh yes I said FIND THESE PEOPLE because what you do not realize is that almost NONE of these defendants actually live at the address on the warrants.

You don't really think they are going to do research or go to any other address that isn't on the warrant do you?

I served over 6k worth of arrest warrants last year...that's just me! How many do you think a sheriff is going to serve??

The sheriff's department is going to be waist high in parking warrants that they either can't serve or don't have the ability or incentive to serve.

Remember a constable does not feed his family if he doesn't make an arrest, a sheriff's deputy still can.

Hey...give me a job a car and benefits and I'm game just please don't expect me to work all hours of the night researching, answering phone calls or posting any other house then is on the warrant. Why should I, I'm still getting paid regardless. Hey if I slip on ice serving a warrant as a sheriff guess what....you got it baby....paid vacation on the tax payers!!

Crash my car?? Who cares! Not my car!

Get sued?? Also don't care....Not my money! It's the tax payers!

As a constable guess what??? We pay for EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING OURSELVES!

Again, it will fail and is bound to fail and the constables WILL get the last laugh!

Bernie also realize that most constables are good and professional, always wear uniforms, identify themselves and do their job respectfully. I work my butt off to earn a decent living and I can guarantee you there are no sheriff's (MEAN NO DISRESPECT TO SHERIFFS) that will work as hard as me or any other constable. Also why would they??? Get my point.

In closing Bernie, please try and get ALL the numbers...they can even be had from the AOPC and realize why the state wants us doing the job of serving these warrants.


Fred Schoenenberger
State Constable
Wilson Borough

Bernie O'Hare said...

Fred, As always, I appreciate your insight and wondered what you would think. Thanks for your perspective.

Anonymous said...

Is that a photo of the sheriff from Brokeback Mountain?

Anonymous said...

The concern from the Lehigh county executive to try and keep taxes at bay for the Lehigh county residence is very inportant as we all can understand. Adding 5 new deputy sheriffs with cars, uniforms, training, healthcare, and lots of other costly items not listed, I believe to be insane.

I personnally know more than a handfull of Lehigh County Deputy Sheriffs who all take great pride serving there community. Every single one of them execute there jobs, no matter what they are doing to the best of there abilities. These men and women are over worked and under paid.

Adding more work to the over piling of domestic and fugitive warrants that they serve everyday is uncalled for. Plus they have NO room in there office for them.

I've worked in Lehigh County serving the unforgiving parking ticket warrants and understand the bulk of work and the time it takes to serve these warrants.

FRED said it very well. Almost all of these warrants have bad addresses and time is need to be spent looking for a new or good address for the individual listed on the warrant. Sometime a lot more time then one would like to spend looking for someone. But if a constable invests the time and doesn't find the person that constable doesn't get paid. If a deputy sheriff does the same YOU as a tax payer still pays for the fuel, hourly pay, health coverage, insurances, and so on. Which then will cost the tax payer more money then they think it cost to pay a constable.

Now moving on to how much the tax payers really pay constables.

When a warrant is issued to a Constable the county adds a $15.50 to EACH warrant. Say this person has 5 warrants for there arrest that $77.50 that the county has just made. Now its up the the judge to set up payment arrangements for the defendent. If the judge sets up a payment schedule for $5.00 a month. It will take the county over 15 months to break even on just the surcharge.

This doesn't even include fines and costs.

YEARS PEOPLE YEARS to pay off!!! Which puts the county where?....broke, and looking for someone to put the blame on. Since everything flow down hill guess who gets blamed. CONSTABLES for doing the job that they were ELECTED to do.

Is that the constables fault?? You can make your own decision.

I can go on and on. I just stopped home to post this becasue someone told me about it and I wanted to put my $.02 in.

Now I have to go back out to work. I will put in about 12-13 hrs of work in today. How many hours do you think your county executive put in today?

Yeah by the way Lehigh County Deputy Sheriffs work in pairs for officer safety. So lets take 20 constables off the street who work alone and can cover all that ground and put 5 deputys on the road who are paired up and find out how much ground your really going to cover.

Elected Constable In Northampton County

Bernie O'Hare said...

Thanks for your informative comment.

Anonymous said...

Elected Constable in Northampton Co,

That $15.50 is collected for EVERY COURT DOCKET not just those that are warranted.

That means EVERY SINGLE docket that goes through the district court.

Trust me they are getting their fee more then enough to have a very nice bank account just with that fee.

Fred Schoenenberger

Anonymous said...

You do not understand the process of how constables receive payment in Northampton County or you do understand and are deceptively using bloated figures to substantiate your rhetoric.

Northampton County taxpayers DO NOT pay $1 million for constable services. You cannot total the 1099 forms of all constables in Northampton County and say the county taxpayers pay that amount for constable services. The 1099 forms show how much the constables earned in Northampton County, not how much the county paid them from the county budget. The 1099 forms include money that the district courts collected for constable costs when defendants paid their fines and costs and also include money received from parties in civil actions who used constables to provide service of paperwork. These monies are paid to the district courts (by defendants and people filing civil actions) and the district courts pay the constables. These amounts account for ¾ of the money constables are paid in Northampton County. These amounts need to be included on 1099 forms to accurately report to the IRS the amounts the constables have earned.

To determine how much the county taxpayers are paying for constable services, you need to total the constable payment requests that are sent to the county for payment. These payment requests are sent to the county when indigent defendants can’t pay constable costs, when a person is incarcerated for non-payment of fines and costs or for those defendants who are on payment plans. Eventually, the county receives some of that money. When the defendants make payments each month on their fines and costs balances to the district courts (some of which are constable costs), that money is sent to the county by the district courts. Part of that money is reimbursement for constable costs that the county has paid to the constables. Rather than have the constables wait a year for payments when a person is on a payment plan, the county pays the constables and then is reimbursed each month as the defendants make payments to the district courts.

Please check the county’s 2007 budget to see how much money the county actually spent on constables. That figure should be somewhere around $250,000 with about $35,000 of it reimbursed to the county in 2007. As the accurate figures indicate, the taxpayers paid approximately $215,000 for constable services in Northampton County in 2007. This is substantially less than you reported. The rest of the $1 million dollars that the constables earned in 2007 was paid by defendants who owed court costs (constable fees included) and parties involved in civil actions and then given to the constables in monthly checks from the district courts.

I believe an update to your post is needed once you check Northampton County’s 2007 budget. You have definitely not stated the facts as your column indicates. You have used inaccurate information to support your viewpoint. In the future, please learn and understand the process of how something is calculated before you claim, “Here are the facts”.

Bernie O'Hare said...

You are correct.

In a conversation w/ Vic Mazziotti last night, I learned that that the 1099s given to constables include both money paid by the county for indigent defendants as well as the money that is paid by defendants into the courts. I was told the county digs into its own pocket every year for about $300-400 thousand.

I acknowledge that I make a factual error myself when telling people, "here are the facts." The monies paid far indigent defendants is much lower than I thought. I will correct my factual error in a separate post on Monday, the day before LC's budget hearing on this and other questions. I am somewhat embarrassed by your lecture, but you are right and I am wrong. I consider myself admonished.

I did have the wrong figure, but my basic point about counties having to pay the fees for indigent defendants, is accurate. That is money the county will never see again. It is $300-400k in NC, presumably a little larger in LC. it is still a hefty sum.

Anonymous said...


Yes that is 300-400K but your not accounting all the money the county made in the collection of those fines and costs. You can multiply that 3-400k several times.

The system is working fine.

The other constable was correct in his payments the county makes to us.

Fred Schoenenberger

Anonymous said...

Hey Bernie,

The vote was 8-1 last night in favor of the Constables. It appears the commissioners saw the facts!

Anonymous said...

Hey,Bernie, you have no clue about you're talking about concerning constables (not surprising). The state legislature sets the fees that constables can collect.I worked as a constable in the Allentown Parking Court and was only allowed to charge a state-set fee and it was only ever paid by the defendant who had the warrant, not the county. If whoever had the warrant that I arrested had me pick them up, rather than coming in and paying voluntarily, they also had my mileage fees to pay, as per the state fee list. If these defendants had more than one warrant, I was only allowed to charge them mileage on one. We proposed to transport prisoners outside the county at a much cheaper rate than sheriff's deputies because we're not full-time employees using county vehicles. Constables use their own vehicles at their own expense and can only charge mileage and hourly for the time on the job. As usual, you have no grasp of constables at all, but that didn't stop you from spouting off as though you did.

montikea said...

Bernie, as having been a constable and taken the job seriously and not pulling any stupid antics, as others I know won't, the constables cost the counties NO MONEY if they don't perform their given assignments at the defendants' expense. The cost of transport throughout the state is established by the state legislature as well as all the other fees that constables are allowed to charge. Many times those fees are at a huge savings to the counties because sheriff's deputies are paid on the clock...constables aren't, they're paid piece rate and mileage per piece. Constables must provide their own uniforms, vehicles, guns and supplies whereas sheriff's deputies don't. All in all, constable have a much higher cost to themselves to avail themselves to the courts and the public, and for very little compensation.