There’s really no excuse for this

Published 10:25 pm Friday, October 15, 2010

I am sure you were a little perturbed about the story that came out of the supervisors’ Monday meeting about there being approximately $824,000 on the JP court system’s books in uncollected fines, stretching back for years.

And then you read that $18 million in stimulus checks have been sent to jailbirds and dead people. Then you really have to take a pill and settle down.

And there were budget cuts this year amounting to right at $1 million. You have the SPCA cut, the library system cut and the senior citizens demanding help, all kinds of budget issues because there was not enough money.

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Supervisor Hudson Holliday asked a number of good questions in the Monday discussion: Who are these people that owe this money? Is it collectible? Should we go after them? Name a task force to come together and collect this? Or if you are not going to collect it, write it off somehow?

There are several more points I would like to mention: I believe you can’t write off a debt like this. I believe state law requires the JP court system, like it does the tax assessor, to hold these debts forever, until it can be proven that the person who owes the fine is dead.

Also, think what they do to you if you don’t pay your land and house taxes or your car tag fee. They will confiscate your property and sit you out on the street, and your kids. They will prevent you from driving your car. No compassion whatsoever. And, too boot, if the tax assessor-collector gets in arrears and does not follow the proper procedure in collecting and recording tax collections, he can be forced from office, and even sent to jail.

I thought it was like this: You have a fine that is too much for you to handle. You work out a payment system with the court. They don’t have to do this, but they do it to help you. When you miss a payment, like when you miss a payment on your house, all kinds of things go haywire.

I thought the judge then signed a warrant for your arrest and then the sheriff dept. deputies went out and hauled you off to jail, and then you paid what was in arrears and then you are out, and the process is repeated over and over, if need be, till you pay off your fine. No payment; no freedom. No payment on house taxes; no house.

But then you got another problem. Would that be all the deputies could do? They are stretched thin now; could they handle the debt collection process.

Holliday said that if you do hold someone in jail, the county is paying $34 a day to hold that person and still might not get their money. There are so many, too, a legitimate question to ask is do we have the jail space to incarcerate all these deadbeats? And then if they get sick while in jail, Oh! My God!

You know in the private sector if you don’t stay on top of your receivables, your dead. But it’s not that way in the government. You let receivables pile up and it does not affect your revenue stream, which comes from taxes.

However, it should affect the revenue stream of those responsible for letting it pile up: Their salary. In the private sector you would be fired as soon as this was known, because if you let it go in the private sector the whole business along with all its employees is kaput.

The majority of businesses that fail have on their books enough money to pay their bills and get caught up.

Now, what do we do about it. We don’t cry and we don’t throw a temper tantrum; we methodically and coolly go about collecting it, no matter whom it hurts or displaces.

Holliday suggested a task force that would daily work on this until it is cleared up, and I think that is a great idea. How about some retired, respected businessmen forming a blue ribbon panel to investigate this and working with government officials to clear it up.

Or, there is another real good agency that can look into this, the Grand Jury. They are, when in session, the most powerful body in the county. They, made up of average citizens, can investigate anything they want to that affects the county. The next Grand Jury needs to look into this, too, and tell us what has happened and what we can do about it.

What’s your thoughts on this. Am I wrong? You know, don’t you, that you can write a letter to the editor. Keep it accurate and balanced. I personally believe a full-blown diatribe will not help. But a reasonable, well-thought-out suggestion is helpful.

I know that most citizens would support our public officials taking a tough stand on this and getting our money collected. It will eventually save the taxpayers of PRC money.