Local Governments Collect Lost Money

7-14-05 - Texas cities and counties are sitting on a gold mine: thousands of tickets and fines haven’t been paid, prompting local governments to take a proactive approach on collection.

Judges, clerks, city marshals, and police from Texoma towns met Wednesday to exchange ideas on how to deal with the decades-old problem of collecting lost fines.
Court officials say the statistics on lost money are staggering. More than 300 million dollars—money that could go into state and local governments—remain uncollected from warrants.

Court judges say that in the past it was difficult for small towns to track down fines, because no single plan for collection existed. Arrests were infrequent and some fines went uncollected for almost 30 years.

“I don't know if it was that people just didn't think collecting was that important,” says Gainesville Municipal Court Judge Chris Cypert. “That's what we're trying to do now, is just make people responsible for their actions.”

This means a more proactive approach to collection, including door hangers and postcards sent to warrant evaders, or even a visit from the city marshal. In Gainesville, the start of an organized collection program has those people actually bringing the money in.

“[It’s been] really good. They're actually calling me up and saying, ‘Hey, I need to pay for this, how can I do it?’ And I will tell them what they need to do and I will work with them,” says Gainesville City Marshal Gordon Walker.

Since the organized collection began in Gainesville, the city has doubled fine collection, helping the city afford higher pay for police officers. Similar results are reported around the region.