Rhea leaders seeking plan to collect unpaid fines

Rhea leaders seeking plan to collect unpaid fines

March 13th, 2011 by Tom Davis in News

DAYTON, Tenn.-Rhea County commissioners have asked the Circuit Court clerk to recommend a plan to collect about $2.3 million in unpaid fines and court fees.

Circuit Court Clerk Jamie Holloway told commissioners during their workshop session this week that he has spent considerable time since he took office Sept. 1, 2010, researching the matter. He said he believes the county would be better served by hiring a collection agency to pursue the debt than to attempt collections using his staff.

"Coffee County does it [collections] in-house, but they hired two staff members to do that," he said. "Knox County used a collection agency, then brought it in-house and has gone back to using an agency."

Holloway pointed out that hiring staff would incur fixed costs with no guarantee of collections. On the other hand, the collection agency would be paid a percentage of what is collected, so there would be no fixed cost to the county.

"I think it is in the county's best interest to use a collection agency and give them a percentage and us get the rest," he said. "That's better than nothing."

District Attorney General Mike Taylor told commissioners that the clerk is the official authorized to decide on the matter of collections. The clerk has the option of collecting money himself, having the district attorney's office make the collections or hiring a collection agency.

At the request of commission Chairman Ronnie Raper, Taylor agreed to meet with Holloway to work out a recommendation to take to the county Finance Commission, which would seek bids from collection agencies.

In other matters, Beth Jones, executive director of the Southeast Tennessee Development District, encouraged commissioners to actively prepare to recruit new industry to the county.

She said area counties have used three strategies in their efforts, including pre-approving payment in lieu of tax plans to forgive a certain amount of property tax liability for new companies; providing infrastructure to industrial areas; and creating public-private partnerships to market property to industry.

With Wacker Chemical building a $1.5 billion plant in Bradley County and Volks-wagen about to finish its $1 billion plant in Hamilton County, now is the time for Rhea to prepare for new industry, Jones said.

"You have low taxes, you are in a prime spot as a bedroom community for Wacker and Volkswagen, but if you don't have [property] the opportunity will pass you by," she said. "You need to look for additional property."

Tom Davis is based in Dayton. E-mail him at tsdavis@volstate.net.