Wednesday, February 23, 2005
GRANDVIEW - Grandview City Council members voted Tuesday night to write off more than $239,000 in uncollectible debts. The official action erased the outstanding accounts from the city's ledger, but caused council members some heart burn.
The topic of uncollectible accounts came up during the council's first meeting of the month back on Feb. 7. During that meeting council members discussed the possibility of publishing the names of all of the debtors in the local newspaper to see if anyone would come forward to pay any of the outstanding balances. City Attorney Jack Maxwell's absence made it necessary for the council to table the topic until last night.
During last night's meeting, Municipal Court Judge Rick Kimbrough explained that the accounts being written off by the city are for debts that have been outstanding for 10 years or more. He noted that after 10 years the debts can no longer be collected. He said even if the city were to publish the names in the newspaper, they couldn't legally collect the outstanding debts.
Maxwell also added the city can't publish the names of the debtors because it would open up the city to numerous lawsuits.
Kimbrough said when it comes to municipal court monetary penalties where some of the outstanding debt orginated, they are often issued as either part of an overall penalty or as the only penalty in some civil cases. He noted that the state also has mandatory minimums when it comes to fines for offenses like driving under the influence. Kimbrough told council that those mandatory minimums are penalties that have to be handed down regardless of whether or not the person is able to pay the fine or not. He explained that often times those mandatory minimum fines end up being uncollectible because the person being fined either goes further into the jail system and cannot pay the penalty or is an illegal alien and is deported right after their court appearance. Kimbrough said those are just a few of the reasons those penalties are not collected.
Looking at the $239,000 the city wrote off last night, Kimbrough said the number is not a true reflection of the reality of collectible debts.
Kimbrough added that in the past year he has implemented a new program at the municipal court level to help encourage people to pay their fines. He said he is using a pay or appear program.
Kimbrough explained to council members that the program works with people who receive monetary fines, setting up a monthly installment plan for the person. He said if the person misses a payment, they have to appear in court the first Wednesday of the next month to explain why they didn't make their payment. If the person doesn't appear in court, a warrant is issued for their arrest and they are brought in to court that way.
"The process had been fairly successful," Kimbrough said. He added that the city is now collecting on average about $13,692 a month through the municipal court.
Council members expressed their approval of Kimbrough's new efforts and noted that it is nice to see that something is being done to ensure that in the future the city isn't forced to write off such a large amount in uncollectible debts.
"We have no control over the past 10 years, but we can make a difference in the next 10 years," said Councilwoman Joan Souders.