Board concerned with late fines

Published 1:45 pm Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Supervisors on Monday proposed setting up a task force to look into how to collect $824,000 in delinquent fines owed the Pearl River Co. justice court system by violators, some fines dating back years.

Supervisor Hudson Holliday told fellow supervisors that if the money could be collected it would go a long way in helping fund the tight county budget and that the county ought to collect the money or just “write it off.”

Said Holliday, “That money (the delinquent fines) would do the county a lot of good if we could get it collected. Are these people who owe this, are they dead, or live out of the state, or out of the country? What is the status of these debts?”

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Discussion of the delinquent accounts was prompted when Holliday and supervisors reviewed the Justice Court Clerk’s list of aging accounts receivable schedule that was in the supervisors’ information packet, which they receive each meeting.

The report showed the following past due receivables, or delinquent fines: 0-3 months $2,174, 4-6 months $4,082, 7-12 months $20,439, 13-24 months $91,847, 25-36 months $89,121.44, 37-48 months $18,768.21 and over 48 months $594,999.13, for a grand total of $824,430.86.

What Holliday was referring to was the fact that supervisors recently shaved off a million dollars in cutbacks to the current new budget and cut funding to various agencies, when the county has on its books uncollected in the JP court system three-quarters-of-a-million dollars.

The report is required to be filed by the State Auditor’s Office and given as information to the board of supervisors.

“Do you know the answer?” asked Holliday. “We have hired some folks to get out and collect some of this, but nothing seems to happen.”

Exactly who is responsible for letting these receivables get out of hand was not perfectly explained by the board. Supervisor Anthony Hales said it was the judges responsibility to see that the fines are collected.

He said that the Justice Court Clerk is not responsible for collecting the fines since she is only responsible for keeping the records and files straight. County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin, Jr., said that a bill in the legislature would give the District Attorney more power to help collect the fines.

He said, too, that all kinds of problems sometimes crop up. He said one clerk, who is no longer with the office, would not give some of the bills to the collection agency because “she didn’t like them.”

Said Hales, “Some of these delinquent fines are due for over four years. I guess it is caused by some past practices. There have been some problems there.” Hales did not elaborate.

Replied Holliday, “My question is do we need to be proactive to try and collect this, to hire somebody to zero in on it and get it collected. What do you think? If this is not collectible, let’s quit showing it to people, and playing like we are going to collect it.”

Said Lumpkin, asked to comment on it by Holliday, “It is my understanding that when a person walks out of the courtroom and you have not gotten your money from him, there’s a 50-50 chance of you getting the remainder. It goes down from that point. The longer you wait to try and collect it, the less chance you have of getting all of it.”

Added Lumpkin, “There are programs or ways of suspending drivers’ licenses of those who owe traffic fines, but they drive anyway and hope not to get caught.”

Lumpkin said there is a state law that you cannot be placed in jail longer than four days for failure to pay a fine. And if the delinquent violator gets out of jail in four days and still has not paid off the fine, you can’t jail him again for the same delinquency.

Holliday pointed out that about $118,000 was only over 12 months old.

Lumpkin said some judges in JP court made the violator sit in court and furnished them with a phone and told the violator that “you don’t leave until you get the money here or you go to jail.”

“Ninety-five percent of them got the money there,” said Lumpkin.

 “I don’t know how they are doing it now,” he added.

“It’s amazing, isn’t it,” said Holliday.

“If we just leave it up to a collection agency to write them a threatening letter, we are never going to get it collected,” said Holliday. “And maybe we can’t do any better but it seems to me we ought to get real serious about this. These people have violated our laws; they owe the money; now they should pay it. We need to get a task force to start collecting this money. Work on it everyday and we might see some money start coming in. We owe it to the hard-working taxpayer out there who are paying the bills and being honest about it.”