|County contracts with agency to ferret out unpaid fines|
|Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor|
June 3, 2005 - If you owe a fine to Hopkins County, be warned. If you do not pay what is owed soon, you can expect to be reminded.
County commissioners last week approved an agreement with Municipal Services Bureau [MSB] to ferret out scofflaws and collect what is owed to the county, along with an extra charge for the service.
Unpaid fines have been a thorn in county commissioners’ sides for many years, and the problem is amplified each year as the county begins work to prepare a budget for the next fiscal year.
This action comes just as the commissioners are beginning to work on the budget, and any amount will help in generating revenue for the county, said Hopkins County Judge Cletis Millsap.
“We feel like, at this time, that anything they collect above the fine, they will get that fee which is provided by state law,” the judge explained. “This will enable us to get a lot of this old fine money that we need to collect and put it into the county coffers.”
Using information provided initially by county records, MSB will mail notices to people with unpaid fines, and make contact by telephone or in other ways, according to the contract agreement.
Those with unpaid fines will be offered the opportunity to resolve their obligation voluntarily before further action is taken by the county.
“Most of these cases are real old and we cannot find these people, so we have turned it over to this collection agency,” Millsap said.
Information provided to MSB by the county will include the amount due along with the last known address of the defendant and other specific information about individual cases.
If collection efforts are unsuccessful, MSB will provide all information about a person’s location to law enforcement. The collection agency will not, however, be empowered to arrest people who cannot or will not pay the outstanding fines.
“This firm will find out where these people are so that we can go after them,” the judge said. “We are going to go after people that owe us fine money.”
If fines are collected by the collection firm, the amount that must be paid will be considerably more. State law permits an agency collecting overdue fines to charge an additional 30 percent of the total of the fine.
In preparation for Municipal Services Bureau to begin collection efforts, commissioners will be meeting with both the district and county clerks as well as law enforcement officials to take steps to collect the outstanding fines before turning the information over to MSB.
The county judge said he and the county commissioners were comfortable with the collection firm, which has been highly recommended for its ability to make collections.
“We have been doing business with these people for some time and this is something the county clerk had recommended to the court,” Millsap concluded.