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9-17-2014

Move frees money for
domestic violence shelters

by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark reporter

After two years in an indeterminate state, collected fees for domestic violence shelters will once again have a way to reach shelters that serve victims of abuse.

Nearly 30 years ago, Platte County began collecting court fees and marriage license fees to support domestic violence shelters. To facilitate the administration of these fees, a board comprised of representatives from Platte, Clay, and Ray Counties was organized.

In 2011, the 25 year-long agreement expired, causing a situation where there is no legal authority to distribute the collected funds to domestic violence shelters, said Rob Willard, Platte County treasurer.

Since the law still permits the collection of these fees, “we have sort of a strange quirk in the law or black hole, in which, the fees are still being collected, but we can't legally get that to the domestic violence shelters,” he said.

The fees that generate funds for domestic violence shelters include the county's $5 marriage license fee and $2 civil court fee. Each year, the combined fees collect $5,000 to $6,000, said Willard.

Over the past couple of years, the fees obtained for domestic violence shelters have been sitting in an account with no legal authority for being disbursed.

In recent years, the funds went to assisting Synergy Services, a domestic violence shelter in Parkville. With an annual budget of $6.5 million, Synergy Services carries out its mission 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Willard said although these additional funds amount to one percent of the shelter’s budget, the funds are essential to Synergy Services as it carries out its service in the community. Just last year Synergy Services “touched 40,000 people,” states their website.

Megan Benton, who serves as an assistant prosecutor and represents victims of domestic violence in court, said the judicial system often turns to shelters such as Synergy Services to assist women who suffered abuse at the hands of another, with counseling, safe housing, and other basic needs.

Benton said prosecutors often rely on domestic violence shelters to facilitate in the prosecution of cases involving abuse of a family member and other domestic violence offenses.

“They are a great partner to have and we refer a lot of victims that have nowhere else to go,” said Benton. “They are a great resource to have.”

On Tuesday, the Platte County Commission approved a measure to establish a new Domestic Violence Shelter Board, thereby creating a mechanism to distribute collected funds to qualifying domestic violence shelters in Platte County.