Mt. Vernon Register-News

September 6, 2013

County turns to collection agency

By RICK HAYES rick.hayes@register-news.com
The Register-News

---- — MT. VERNON — An outside collection agency has been solicited by county officials to begin collecting unpaid fines and fees from 2007 and beyond for felonies, misdemeanors and DUI's.

Circuit Clerk John Scott and State's Attorney Doug Hoffman offered an amnesty program for a four-month period earlier this year to allow those who had delinquent fines and fees in Jefferson County to pay their debts at a 50 percent reduction as long as it was paid during the allotted time frame.

The two officeholders have now contacted Pioneer, a Sallie Mae company, to begin collecting delinquent debts. The collection agency will be tracking down those who owe court fines and fees who didn't take advantage of the amnesty period.

"It's kind of a bird in a hand philosophy," explained Hoffman. "The money is not otherwise coming in. This will shake the bushes, so to speak, to get old fines collected, even from the 80's, as a result of that plan. The logical next step is to turn over these debts to collections."

When the program was announced, Hoffman said, "Processing these cases for years on end continues to cost our taxpayers more money as we try to collect on money owed a long time ago."

Pioneer representative Ryan Hansen now collects debts in over half of Illinois' counties. He said the company has a very good track record, especially in cases that or seven years old or newer. Hansen serves Johnson and Massac counties in our area.

"We have a good market share in Illinois," said Hansen, who formerly worked in the circuit clerk's office in McDonough County.

"We saw him at statewide conferences and talked to other competitors. I called six other circuit clerks who used his services and they were very satisfied," said Scott. "He has a proven track record of success," Hoffman added.

"This is at zero cost to the county and its taxpayers and addresses the issues of collecting delinquent fines and fees in which John's office doesn't have the capacity to address that issue," Hoffman said. "For my office, it requires pulling files and bringing them to review court and collecting minute fines. It becomes a losing proposition and is somewhat counterproductive," added Scott.

When the program was announced, Scott said, "There has been a large backlog of fines and fees, which my office keeps records for because they are closed cases. It has done nothing but grown steadily over the years. The amount of money owed to the county and owed to the citizens has also grown."

The amnesty period, which ran from March through June, resulted in the county clearing some delinquent accounts.

"There were several thousand dollars brought in during that time period and numerous cases were closed out due to that fact," Scott said. Officeholders announced in February the 50 percent reduction in debts would only be offered once and then the debts would be turned over to a collection agency.

Pioneer will begin collecting the old debts immediately, according to local officials.