Constable seeks OK to collect court fines|[09/07/07]

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 7, 2007

A Warren County constable seeking to serve as a collection agent for fines owed in justice court will have to wait for a decision by Warren County supervisors, they said Thursday.

In order for Northern District Constable Glenn McKay to perform the work, the board would have to take advantage of its ability under state law to contract with constables and pay them 25 percent of amounts collected.

McKay, the lone constable of three in Warren County to face opposition for re-election this year, appeared before supervisors in August with a proposal he said was modeled after one used by Leake County officials. Under the arrangement, constables can collect payments that are 60 days late and have two days to turn the money over to the justice court clerk.

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“If we had more jail space, we’d just lock them up,” McKay told the board in August, adding justice court has a backlog totaling about $3 million in outstanding fines.

When supervisors took up the issue Thursday, liability and maintaining the court as the true collection authority weighed heavily in the decision.

“I just can’t do it,” Board President Richard George said after the board voted to table the request.

An initial draft of a contract was presented, including a provision releasing the county from liability for “any willful and/or intentional acts” that would violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act during attempts to collect fines.

“It’s legal, but not commonly done,” board attorney Paul Winfield told supervisors.

Constables are paid $35 for each justice court paper served.

Two constable positions will be settled in the November general election. In one, McKay faces independent Eddie Hoover in the November general election. In the Central District, supervisors plan to name an interim constable soon to replace Rudolph Walker, who resigned. In a convoluted process related to timing of the resignation, political parties may name candidates to appear on Nov. 6 ballots. Southern District Constable John Heggins has no opponent.

In other business, the board will use $250,000 of its estimated $2.6 million reserve of casino tax revenue in the upcoming year to match any federal grant awards from a Katrina-related disaster grant program.

Supervisors have eyed cleaning debris out of three bayous running through Vicksburg as a use for the money, totaling $4 million available to any one of 43 counties in the federally declared disaster area. Six counties along the Gulf Coast are eligible for a similar but separate program.

Olie Elfer of Jimmy Gouras Urban Planning Consultants, the county’s contract grant-writing firm for the program, said the match was necessary to bolster the county’s overall score on the application.

The scope of the work of cleaning the narrow channels has yet to materialize, with county engineers and road department officials agreeing any work by county employees needs to be kept independent of contracted crews.

“We just don’t know what any of this stuff will bid for,” County Engineer John McKee said.

Road Department Manager Richard Winans cautioned the board against tying up road department resources on the project, suggesting the extent of his department’s involvement should be to haul away debris any contractor removes from the bayous.

Following Hurricane Katrina, Warren County applied for $194,289.67 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse county departments for overtime and debris cleanup efforts generated by the storm’s aftermath. To date, the county has received only $18,289.67.