TMCnet News

Collection agency to help county secure payments: Northampton to get assistance with tracking down about $28.6 million in outstanding court fines.
[December 14, 2006]

Collection agency to help county secure payments: Northampton to get assistance with tracking down about $28.6 million in outstanding court fines.

(Morning Call, The (Allentown, PA) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Dec. 14--Northampton County will hire a collection agency to help track down the people who owe about $28 million in unpaid court fines and costs.

This week, County Executive John Stoffa signed an order awarding the contract to Account Recovery Bureau of Wyomissing, Berks County. The agency previously had done the same work for the county.

The county will not pay the company, which will earn its money by charging a 25 percent collection fee to the individuals who owe the county money.

About $28.6 million in court costs, fines and restitution has gone uncollected from criminals since 1997.

Not all of the money is owed to the county, with some owed to the state, to crime victims and to local governments where people were arrested.

County officials acknowledge the full amount will never be collected because some criminals remain jailed and have no earnings. Others are poor and cannot pay much, and many criminals cannot be located.

County Councilman Lamont McClure, who has been driving the effort, has said that realistically the county could hope to collect around 3 percent to 4 percent of the amount, or about between $859,000 and $1.1 million.

This summer, council asked local members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly and Congress to write laws to help the county collect the money.

It sought to attach wages, workers' compensation checks and other insurance payments; freeze bank accounts; garnish income tax refunds and lottery winnings; deny driver's licenses to people who do not agree to wage attachments; deny passports; and publish the name of delinquents in a statewide database for tracking.

The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania is lobbying state officials to give county governments more collection powers.

State Reps. Craig Dally and Julie Harhart have written to Northampton County Council saying they will review the suggestions, but must consider whether carrying them out would violate anyone's constitutional rights. They pointed out no other states have enacted "such wide-sweeping laws."

Dally and Harhart said a 1998 law gave counties the ability to garnish wages and suggested the county pursue that.

The state Senate is considering legislation, already approved by the state House, to allow a criminal's bail money to be applied to court costs.

At the federal level, a bill has been introduced in Congress to allow federal income tax refunds to be garnished for unpaid court costs.

Account Recovery Bureau was among five companies that submitted bids to Northampton County, with collection fees ranging from 14.9 percent to 25 percent.

[email protected]


Copyright (c) 2006, The Morning Call, Allentown, Pa.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.
For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

[ Back To's Homepage ]