published Saturday, April 13th, 2013

Kimball targets unpaid court fines

KIMBALL, Tenn. — After a recent report of significant unpaid court fines, city administrators are looking for ways to collect the money.

Mayor David Jackson said Kimball had $8,535 in uncollected fines from 2008 to 2012. The report did not specify the offenses tied to the fines.

"It's quite a bit of money," Jackson said, and he was considering whether the city should hire a collection agency.

City Attorney Billy Gouger said Marion County has tried using a collection agency for the past couple of years and that method "has not been very successful."

The city would have to bid out the work, officials said, and those companies normally get about 40 percent of the money they collect.

There is another "cheap" option the city could try first, Gouger said.

"A recent law allows municipal judges to suspend driver's licenses for nonpayment of certain fines in municipal court," he said. "I would say it could be used in a significant portion of [the uncollected fines]. Kimball could use that as a mechanism within which to collect."

Gouger said he has used that power as a municipal judge in South Pittsburg, Tenn., and it's been "very successful."

"When you get that 20-day letter from the [Tennessee] Department of Safety saying you've got an unpaid fine in municipal court, and if you don't get it paid within 20 days your license will be suspended, it gets most people's attention," he said.

There are very few municipal court violations that don't fall into the category that allows a judge to suspend driver's licenses for unpaid fines, Gouger said.

"If it works, then the problem would be addressed," he said. "[The board] could always look at other options if it doesn't."

Last week, the Kimball Board of Mayor and Aldermen instructed Gouger to discuss the idea with Kimball Municipal Judge Melissa Blevins.

"The only problem I've run into with doing it is some people don't have a license," Gouger said. "It's not very effective against them."

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

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