Collecting past due traffic fines

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Circuit clerk teams up with private firm

By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

At a time when the Fayette County Board is faced with trimming the county’s budget, one county officer has come up with a way of increasing revenues.
If you never paid for a traffic ticket you received more than two decades ago, you probably know how Circuit Clerk Kathy Emerick is doing that.
Emerick, the circuit clerk since December 2012, was at a conference when she learned about Credit Collection Partners, a company that was beginning to collect past due fine monies.
Emerick liked what she heard about the company, including the fact that one of its newer employees was a former circuit clerk who was, therefore, familiar with the workings of that office.
Because working with a private company such as this had to be approved by the judge and state’s attorney in the participating county, Emerick asked Becky Jansen, the former circuit clerk, to make a presentation to Resident Circuit Judge S. Gene Schwarm (the Fourth Judicial Circuit chief judge) and State’s Attorney Joshua Morrison.
Schwarm and Morrison signed off on the program.
“I saw a need to collect the past due fines, and this was a way to do that,” Emerick said.
“And the good thing about this is that it doesn’t cost the county a cent,” she said.
That’s because Credit Collection Partners in addition to collecting the overdue fine from a traffic offender, it receives from that offender a collection fee of 30 percent of the fine amount. That collection fee is set by the state.
Emerick’s office began collecting the overdue fines in July, after files with overdue fines dating back to 1988 were pulled. She went back to ’88, because state law allows tickets to be destroyed after 25 years.
Emerick said that Jansen hired someone to pull the tickets, and has worked with deputy clerks in her office to get the program rolling.
Once set up, the program “includes a process that scrubs the system every six months and finds people with overdue fines when a past offender uses a credit card or is arrested,” she said.
“It’s been a lot of work on our park, and everybody has had a hand in getting this up and rolling,” Emerick said.
In just three months, Emerick has been impressed with the partnership with Credit Collection Partners.
“One of the reasons that it is working out so well is that Becky was a circuit clerk, so she knows how our office operates,” Emerick said. “She knows the programs that we use and how to get all of the information she needs.
“It has been a very smooth program,” she said.
In just three months, Emerick said, “It’s going so well that we have already reduced one entire file cabinet (full of old traffic tickets).”
And, of course, her office’s revenues have increased.
“Two weeks ago, we were getting $1,000 a day,” Emerick said. “There have been a lot of days that we have received $1,000 or $2,000 a day.”
Since starting at the end of July, she said, the new program has generated $68.628.29.
“It has been very effective, and one of the good things about it is that is an ongoing program that is of no cost to the county,” Emerick said.
And, of course, the collection program is making some people unhappy.
“We hear all kinds of stories from people,” Emerick said.
“Some of them will say, “I have never been in Fayette County in my life.’ I tell them, ‘Well, I have a ticket in my hand with your name and information on it.’”
Some will tell Emerick, “I didn’t pay it because I didn’t have the money then, and I don’t have it now.’
“For those people, we can set up a payment plan. We have people who pay $10 a month,” she said.