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PAULA numbers may drop with 21-ordinance

BY NICOLE KARLIS | MARCH 31, 2010 7:30 AM

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If the Iowa City City Council votes to raise the local bar-entry age to 21 next week, officials hope to see police issuing fewer underage drinking tickets.

But that could mean less income for the city.

PAULA tickets cost minors $330 each if the officers catch them drinking underage the first time. Subsequent PAULAs cost $735.

A Daily Iowan analysis of PAULA tickets issued by the Iowa City police from January 2007 to February 2010 shows that officers issued 2,878 tickets, most of which were handed out at downtown businesses.

That equates to nearly $1 million in underage drinking fines during that three-year span.

A PAULA offense is broken down into three parts, said Assistant City Attorney Eric Goers:

• The basic fine of $200, of which the city receives 90 percent.
• The criminal surcharge, 35 percent of the fine, of which the city collects 5 percent.
• And court costs of $60, which is pocketed by the state.

Funds retained by the city are deposited in the city’s general fund, which helps fund general city employees, Goers said.

Since January 2007, the city has collected at least $518,000 of the total amount paid in first offense PAULA tickets, according the DI analysis.

But the portion of the city’s general fund earned from alcohol violations is very small, Goers said. The majority of the money comes from property taxes, grants, and federal funding.

A decreasing number of PAULAs over the past three years has caused revenue from those tickets to fall by roughly 14 percent since January 2007, according to the DI analysis.

In February 2009, police issued 208 underage drinking tickets compared with 180 last month.

If the City Council passes the pending 21-ordinance, officers will still monitor the drinking scene for underage patrons and issue PAULAs when necessary.

Iowa City police Lt. Doug Hart said reducing underage drinking is one of the goals of ordinance, though it’s unclear what effect it will have on the number of PAULAs doled out.

Hart said he thinks, “optimistically and logically,” that the number of PAULAs will decrease.

However, the number of designated officers in the downtown area won’t change, officials said.

“Hopefully, [21-only] will curb some of the behavior,” Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton said. “These officers could also be doing more proactive things.”

Those include, she said, spreading out into the neighborhoods rather than handing out PAULA citations on the Pedestrian Mall.

City officials agree increasing the bar-entry age will allow police officers to do more than give out tickets.

“Certainly, part of the decision stems from a desire to lessen the burden on the police resources downtown,” said Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek. “I think the situation will improve downtown.”


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