OUR POLL: Tupelo prepares outreach to collect delinquent fines

By NEMS Daily Journal

Tupelo Police Chief Tony Carleton and City Court Administrator Larry Montgomery on Wednesday extended an opportunity and a warning for people who have not paid fines – traffic or code violations – issued by the city: Pay or make arrangements to pay in the two weeks following Memorial Day or face a bench warrant and possibly much higher costs.
Revenue from fines goes into the city’s general fund, which pays for most of the services provided by the city. People who don’t pay fines are like people who don’t pay taxes due – shifting the load to somebody else.
Mayor Jack Reed Jr. said Wednesday the new stress on paying outstanding fines springs from a sharp decline in fine revenue – $100,000 to $150,000 in the past two budget cycles.
Reed said some of the downturn has happened because attrition and budget constraints have reduced the number of police officers available to issue warrants.
Recent published reports of police activity have included contempt of court citations for people who have ignored previous warrants and failed to show in city court.
Each instance of past due offenses or a new citation increases costs for the fine payers – and it could end with jail time.
Reed said he likes a method adopted by the city of Wausau, Wis., which provides the names of all owing fines on its city website: date of birth, date of fine, name, and amount of fine. Wausau is owed several hundred thousand dollars.
Wausau, in order to collect what’s owed from past due municipal and traffic fines, has its Police Department and Wausau Municipal Court system work jointly to list all individuals on the website who have failed to pay fines and/or forfeitures through the court or failed to make payment arrangements with the court.
Wausau, like Tupelo, can suspend driver’s licenses – and Wausau can intercept and claim Wisconsin state tax refunds until fines are paid.
Greensboro, N.C., has adopted similar methods, including garnishment of tax refunds for the millions it is owed, reporting delinquencies to credit agencies and hiring private collectors working on a commission.
Missouri has instigated a Fine Collection Center for participating governments statewide to help them collect a wide range of fines, with full payment sent to the participating governing units.
In Davidson County, Tenn., online payments for many fines can be made using approved credit or debt cards.
The long arm of the law will only get longer with advancing technology.
The cheapest, best way remains timely payment.