Community service paying off, mayor says|[10/08/05]

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 10, 2005

The option to perform community service rather than pay court-ordered fines has been around for years, but it’s being used more frequently now, Mayor Laurence Leyens said.

In addition to reducing the backlog of convictions for which fines have not been collected, the option allows needed projects to be completed.

In the last few years, Leyens said, the number of people working off their fines has increased by more than 300 percent.

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He said he has met with municipal judges twice in recent months to push for the use of the option, especially for high school students.

&#8221I don’t think it’s fair when a high school kid gets a ticket and the parents end up paying it,“ Leyens said. &#8221I encourage kids to get community service to learn from it. I want to encourage parents to ask the judge to give their kids community service.“

Leyens said community service can be earned seven days a week.

&#8221What we’re trying to do is say, ‘Come pay your fine or work it off,’“ Leyens said.

Robert Hubbard, director of community service, said anyone who is not convicted of a felony is eligible.

Sgt. Michael Bryant, Vicksburg Police Department community service administrator, said between 15-25 people are registered each week. Not everyone shows up. Those who don’t are rearrested.

Bryant said community service participants work seven and a half hours a day at $5.35 per hour or $40.13 a day.

To put a person in jail for not paying a fine costs the city $30 a day – and the fine is still not paid, Bryant said.

Municipal Court Judge Allen Derivaux said for many years community service was not used, but Leyens has been an advocate.

&#8221The city likes it because they get positive work done and it clears the fees off the books,“ Derivaux said.

Hubbard said people fined for misdemeanors also have a partial-payment option – an installment plan. But Leyens said he is trying to decrease the number of people on the partial-payment method because in many cases the individual makes one payment and stops.

&#8221There’s $2.5 million total in fines that have not been paid and we cannot simply write them off,“ Leyens said. &#8221It’s a problem that gets worse.“

Leyens said he thinks the partial-payment option is being offered for too many people.

Derivaux said he understands the city’s dilemma with the partial-payment method.

&#8221I agree that it makes more of a burden, but the problem is some people are working but don’t have the money up front,“ Derivaux said.

There’s another benefit. Bryant said pushing the community service option actually encourages some people to pay the whole fine immediately.

&#8221Many people don’t like the work,“ Bryant said.