Thursday, February 9, 2012
Justice Court to go after fines
By SUE WATSON
About a half-million dollars on the books at Marshall County justice court may be collectible.
Representatives of Mississippi Court Collections Inc., of Brandon, met with the board of supervisors recently to discuss how their business works to go after unpaid fines and fees owed the court.
The company has been in business since 2002 and serves 27 counties and municipalities in the state only, helping courts and tax collectors get dollars owed the citizen taxpayers.
David Clark, regional sales manager, said everybody is in need of money but may not have the time and staffing to go after money owed.
“In the environment in which we live, we can’t make a lot of mistakes,” he said. “In this economy, everybody is in need of money. We provide a service that will cost the county almost nothing out of the original fine base.”
That is because state laws allow entities to assess 25 percent of the fine in addition to the fine itself on in-state residents and 50 percent more on out-of-state residents who owe the county money.
He said the company can go after fines left uncollected in paper files going back before 1992 that have languished on the courthouse books.
“It is not uncommon to receive payment for a traffic ticket written in the ’70s,” Clark said.
Delta Systems, which holds the state’s database of fines owed, would provide the company with a list of people who are in arrears on their fines and also put the added 25 or 50 percent on the person’s bill, he said. Mississippi Court Collections would then go after the entire bill.
Justice court clerk Monet Autry said the court has $501,000 in uncollected fines and fees on the books.
Supervisor Charles Terry asked for clarification that the company would not harass those they are approaching for backfines.
Clark said they do not and individuals are offered payment schedules if they need it.
Clark said people may have moved numbers of times since they were written a ticket or fine and hunting them down takes time. But they usually do not object when finally caught up with. He said the company would offer a contract with the county that would cover the four-year board of supervisors’ term now in play.
He added that his company has to buy the data from Delta Systems and would not “dare buy that download” for a one-year contract.
“By that time we have a lot of money invested,” he said.
Supervisor George Zinn III motioned to take the matter under advisement and it passed unanimously. The board approved a contract, pending certain clauses that would let the county out of the contract if it does not satisfy supervisors Monday, Feb. 6.
Next up was consultant Gary Anderson, who reported on expected Legislative bills. He said counties are still looking to the Legislature to help come up with a piece of clean legislation that would help counties with collection of garbage fees.
Supervisor Keith Taylor said counties are looking for a quick fix to the problem as well as relying on legislation that lets counties put bills in arrears as liens on the property tax rolls.
Anderson said he will be looking to see if there is a way to legally shift billing for garbage to a utility.
Supervisor Ronnie Joe Bennett said the county should pursue every avenue, including legislation that would allow utilities to collect monthly for garbage service in the county.
Taylor made a motion to consult with utilities in the county whereby an agreement might be reached for billing for the county’s household waste, starting on current bills, not including bills in arrears. The motion was seconded by Zinn and passed unanimously.
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