Residents who have unpaid court fines have until Nov. 15 to either pay them off in full or negotiate some form of payment plan. Those who don’t face potential contempt of court charges and jail time. They may also have their driver’s license revoked.
According to Fulton Police Chief Reggie Johnson, in most cases, the repercussions for failure to pay are much heavier than the fines themselves. Some, he said, are less than $100.
“If you have some old fines, you need to get them paid,” Johnson said, adding that arresting people is very much a last resort. “We don’t want to put you in jail for owing fines … and we’ve been kind of lenient because of economic times. But we’ve come to the point where we have to put our feet down.”
According to Fulton Deputy Clerk Lynette Weatherford, although many of the fines don’t amount to much money, over the course of a decade or so, they have added up to more than $300,000 in uncollected fees. In a nutshell, she said that’s money that could be used to supplement the police department’s budget; instead, taxpayer dollars are pulling the weight of those unpaid fines.
It’s not fair, the police chief said.
“Like everybody else this year, the city’s budget is just as lean as you can get. There’s no fat there,” he said. “It’s very important we collect every dollar we can get.”
Weatherford said those who fail to pay are notified by official letter. Many of those letters are never answered.
Johnson said he doesn’t expect to collect a good portion of that money — some of those people who owe may have passed away or moved on. Others, he said, might not be able to pay off their debts all at once. But every little bit helps, the police chief said.
“We know a lot of people can’t just come in and pay off a fine, but we know they can come in every week or two weeks to pay off a portion of the fine,” he said. “If you don’t have all the money, bring something. If you owe $50, bring $25.
“You know you owe it … let’s get something going,” Johnson added.
Those who have unpaid fines should contact either Fulton Deputy Clerk Lynette Weatherford or Justice Court Judge Harold Holcomb to arrange some sort of payment plan.
The alternative, he said, is a lot worse.
“We’ll be forced to come get you,” Johnson said. “That’s the last thing we want to do.”