Effort to recoup court fines

Anyone with overdue court fines is being advised to take
advantage of a brief amnesty before a new collection program to
recoup unpaid fines goes into effect.
Anyone with overdue court fines is being advised to take advantage of a brief amnesty before a new collection program to recoup unpaid fines goes into effect.

During its scheduled meeting at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, the San Benito County Board of Supervisors will discuss a proposal to work with the local courts by contracting with a collection agency to recover overdue court fines and fees.

The program, the first of its kind for San Benito County, will focus on those who have owed the courts from now to as far back as five years.

County officials said the plan, if approved, would give GC Services Limited the authority to collect unpaid court fines or administrative fees, and the contract would run from Tuesday through June 30, 2005.

A fine is the amount a person was initially penalized by a judge. A fee is the amount of up to $250 that can be added to a fine, according to state law.

Although the program could eventually be used to collect funds for a variety of court fines, the proposal would start out just collecting fines and fees for automobile-related court rulings.

The collection program would start on Dec. 12. The delay in starting the program is intended to give people an opportunity to pay their fines without any additional fees being added.

For example, someone who has an overdue fine of $750 and who pays the total before Dec. 12, will not have to pay any additional fees. If the same person waits until after Dec. 12, they could be assessed a fee of $250, raising the total cost to $1,000, county officials said.

“In other words, payment of delinquent fines before Dec. 12 will be cheaper than paying on or after Dec. 12,” County Administrative Officer Gil Solorio said in a written statement.

Officials said the proposed program would not use high-pressure tactics to receive payment because it is designed to collect fees without harassing or intimidating phone calls.

Exactly how much would be collected through the program was still uncertain, county officials said.

Under the terms of the proposed contract, GC Services would receive 30 percent of the fees recovered from the collection program. The courts and the county would each receive half of the remaining fees.

The proposed program is based on a collaboration between the county’s administrative office, the auditor’s office and the county Superior Court.

Officials said GC Services was selected as the top candidate for the program because it has experience in running programs such as the proposed one going before the Board.

Currently, GC Services operates similar programs in 25 other counties around the state, including Monterey County.

GC Services also has operations across the country so that if someone who owes fines locally leaves the area or state, they can still be tracked down for payment.

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