Aldermen urged to continue library funding

Published 7:00 am Thursday, July 5, 2018

During Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting Carol Phares came before the Board to discuss the Poplarville Library.

Phares said there are several programs including the book sale, a monthly basket raffle, etc. that help fund library programs such as the purchase of books and DVDs, the installation of a street sign and the implementation of this year’s summer reading program.

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The reading program in Poplarville has seen great success, Phares said. Several dozen children attended the program over the past month, many attending multiple programs and activities.

Phares said that after reviewing recently released 2016 statistics, the Poplarville library’s circulation was in the top 25 percentile out of the 230 library branches across Mississippi. She said the Poplarville branch is only open 32 hours a week four days a week, yet it still competes with larger libraries that are open for more than 50 hours a week.

“It’s always busy and it seems to be getting more and more busy,” she said.

She went on to thank the Board for its support and request that the city continue to support the local library system financially in the upcoming fiscal year.

She said if anyone wants to donate to the Poplarville Library or to the County library system, they make a donation at their local branch. The library system is also open to volunteers, for those who want to help in other ways, she said.

Afterwards, Deborah Sivira, Senior Account Executive with American Municipal Services approached the Board to offer debt collection services. These debts concern outstanding fines and fees within the local court system.

She said in 2014, a bill was passed allowing cities and municipalities to hire outside help to collect fees on behalf of the city. AMS provides these services for free to the city, Sivira said. In exchange, the agency adds a 25 percent fee to the defendant’s outstanding balance so AMS can make a profit.

Sivira said as soon as the city signs with the agency and sends over all of the information on outstanding fines and fees, AMS will start making calls and sending out letters within the next 24 hours in an attempt to collect debts owed to the city.

Sivira said AMS typically has a 25 percent success rate of collecting debt in Mississippi. When compared to cities with similar population rates, AMS collected between a few thousand to $26,000 last year in debt for that city. She said success rates vary due to the amount of information each city provides to the agency about the debt and defendants.

“The only way we’re going to get paid is if we collect the money for the city,” Sivira said.

City Clerk Jane O’Neal said the current balance for outstanding court fines is approximately $500,000. However, she said these fines go back approximately 30 years, because they cannot be taken off the city’s record if they are unpaid.

Sivira said AMS goes back approximately 12 years for court fees and four years for utility fees.

During discussion of the matter, concerns were raised about how the agency convinces defendants to pay their fines, since the only reason they are being contacted is if they have not paid their fines for 90 days or more.

City Prosecutor Clay Cranford said that since House Bill 387 went into effect on Sunday, law enforcement agencies can no longer arrest those who do not pay court fees. As a result, threats of the defendant being arrested are now illegal for debts left unpaid.

Sivira said the letters sent out used to be much more aggressive, but since the Better Business Bureau fined the agency for being too aggressive, they have toned back their language. Now, she said the letters use watered-down language to ask defendants to pay their fines. However, she said letters are still effective, even though they do not include threats.

Cranford said that many who cannot afford their fines are already on a payment plan, so AMS would only take over the accounts of those who have not paid in more than 90 days, or who have not paid at all.

A motion was made to take the matter under advisement until the next meeting.

For more on Tuesday’s meeting, see a subsequent edition of the Item.