published Sunday, May 1st, 2011

Marion may hire collection agency

By Ryan Lewis

JASPER, Tenn. — People who have unpaid court fines and costs in Marion County soon could be getting knocks on their doors.

Last week, county commissioners authorized the Marion County Circuit court clerk’s office to come up with bid specifications in an effort to hire a collection agency to recover the unpaid money.

The actual bidding process will be handled by the Marion County mayor’s office, officials said.

“This is something the county has been looking at on and off for years,” County Attorney Billy Gouger said. “It is a sizable amount of money that is out there. You’re not going to collect every dollar, but a big percentage of that would probably be available [for collection].”

David McGovern, assistant district attorney for the 12th Judicial District, said the county had more than $201,000 in uncollected fines and costs in just the past 12 months.

“It’s just one of those things that doesn’t have a lot of attention given to it,” he said. “If you back that up over the past 10 years, you’re probably looking at a couple of million dollars in uncollected fines and costs.”

Neighboring counties have seen a boost in available funds by contracting the collection work out, officials said.

Sequatchie County collects about 85 percent of its fines and costs, McGovern said. A yearlong push in Grundy County recently brought in $80,000.

Officials said collection companies normally are paid a percentage of the fines they collect.

The highest percentage collectors are allowed by law is 50 percent, Gouger said, but 40 percent seems to be a standard fee.

“That’s probably a negotiable amount, but you wouldn’t know for sure unless you put that out for bid,” he said.

“There’s no guarantee of collecting any of the money, but we’re collecting about zero [of the unpaid fines and costs] right now,” McGovern said. “The county doesn’t lose anything if they don’t collect anything.”

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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