City offers another amnesty on fines

Published 12:06 pm Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Violators with outstanding debt to the City of Vicksburg will have another opportunity beginning next month to settle their past due fines without any penalties, but the offer is different this time.

On Tuesday, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted to bring back the amnesty period for people with past due fines to resolve their balances in exchange for suspension of the contempt of court arrest warrants, which are issued when fines go unpaid.

This year, the amnesty period will be for two months from Feb. 1 to March 31, instead of the four months set up last year, the first year for the program.

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“Right now we have nearly $3 million in past due fines that have been turned over every year,” Mayor Paul Winfield said. “As a local government we have a responsibility to our citizens to recapture all of the monies that are owed to us.”

The objective of the shortened time frame is to make the program appear more valuable, he said.

“Take advantage of this period,” Winfield said. “If you have taken that step to come in and make that payment or make your arrangement, and have the misfortune of coming in contact with an officer and there’s a warrant out for your arrest, you get to pass go. This is to help our citizens out there who are struggling to make ends meet.”

He said some of the fines owed, mainly from traffic citations and other misdemeanor charges of shoplifting and simple assault, are nearly 20 years old.

Winfield said he doesn’t expect to recoup the entire $3 million, but hopes to collect as much as last year, if not more.

Municipal Court Judge Nancy Thomas said the city collected $57,112 from 77 people last year, and hopes to increase that number this year.

“I certainly hope more people will take advantage of it,” she said. “It’s a good opportunity to not be arrested.”

Also, those looking to settle will have to pay in full, unlike last year when people had the option of setting up an installment payment plan or scheduling community service, Thompson said.

Also on Tuesday, the board, along with heads of the Vicksburg police and fire departments, met with a handful of local restaurant and club owners to discuss patron safety concerns following a sweep of city nightclubs and bars on Jan. 14 due to privilege license violations, underage drinking and fights.

“We have had three major instances over the last eight months that involve serious beatings of two individuals and a shooting incident,” Vicksburg Police Department Chief Walter Armstrong said. “No one has been killed as of yet, but we believe if they continue on this same path, it’s just a matter of time before someone loses their life. We just want to curb that.”

Winfield pledged that the city will step up police patrol.

Police are “going to be doing walk-throughs,” he said. “They’re going to be looking to make sure that each establishment is adhering to the occupancy load. We’re going to make sure they’re not going to be violating those rules.”

In other business, the board rejected six sealed bids of more than $1 million each for a generator for the water treatment plant, stalling the city’s attempt to obtain a backup power system in case of an outage caused by severe weather.

The bids exceeded the $914,650 grant the city received last year from the 2008 Community Development Block Grant Supplemental Disaster Recovery Funds, which was to pay for the generator. The grant required no local match.

“The problem was this was a natural gas generator and the cost far exceeded what we have to spend,” South Ward Aldermen Sid Beauman said.

The board approved re-advertising for a generator that operates on diesel fuel, which is less expensive.