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Beware of overdue court fines

Anyone who has overdue court fines will want to pay them soon
because the Board of Supervisors approved a new contract Tuesday to
have an collection agency get the money.
Anyone who has overdue court fines will want to pay them soon because the Board of Supervisors approved a new contract Tuesday to have an collection agency get the money.

With a unanimous vote, the Board approved an agreement to work with the local courts by contracting with a collection agency to recover overdue court fines and fees.

“I think it’s going to be a good program,” Supervisor Ruth Kesler said.

The collection program, which will begin on Dec. 12, is designed to recover unpaid court fines and fees from as far back as five years.

The contract, which runs through June 30, 2005, gives GC Services Ltd. the authority to collect unpaid court fines or administrative fees.

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

The Board specifically approved a month-long delay in starting the program because supervisors wanted to give people an opportunity to pay their fines without any additional fees. 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 their total penalty to $1,000, county officials said.

“They’re given plenty of warning,” Kesler said. “People know that they owe it, so we’re just going to have to go get it.”

Kesler said the program is not intended to harass residents and that people who make a sincere effort to pay the fines will be given every opportunity to do so. That includes arranging a payment schedule for large sums.

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

Although the program could eventually be used to collect funds for a variety of court fines, the proposal will start out by collecting only fines for automobile-related court rulings.

Unlike some collection companies that badger and pester individuals in an attempt to make them pay faster, the proposed program would have no such high-pressure tactics because it is designed to collect fees without harassing or intimidating phone calls.

Exactly how much would be collected through this program is still uncertain, county officials said.

Under the terms of the proposed contract, GC Services will receive 30 percent of the fees recovered from the collection program. The courts and the county will each take 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 Superior Court.

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

GC Services operates similar programs in 25 other California counties, including Monterey County. The company also has operations across the country so that someone who owes fines locally leaves the area or the state can still be tracked down for payment.