PAY IT IN FULL City reaping cash rewards with amnesty deal

Published 11:33 am Friday, March 2, 2012

At the halfway point, a record number of people have taken advantage of the city’s 2-month amnesty period on delinquent fines.

As of Thursday, the city had collected $38,700 from 139 people who opted to pay their fines in full, rather than go to jail, Municipal Court administrator Janice Carter said.

A total of $47,807.52 was collected from 122 people during two months in 2011, and 2010’s amnesty period, which ran four months, yielded $57,112 from 77 people.

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City officials hope to triple the amount already collected as tax refund checks begin to arrive, Carter said.

“I’m hoping to get from amnesty a good $150,000 to $200,000,” Carter said. “That would be a real good figure.”

Still, that represents only a fraction of unpaid fines. The city accountant’s office estimates that the city has an estimated $2.6 million in unpaid or partially collected fines. Some of those fines date to the 1990s, Carter said, but most are recent. Offenses leading to the fines range from a variety of misdemeanors to traffic citations.

Whether it’s paying a $48 seat belt ticket or $716.50 for driving without insurance, no fine is too big or too small for the amnesty period, Carter said. However, the fines must be paid in full in cash or with a cashier’s check or money order.

Taking advantage of the amnesty period saves speeders, seat belt scofflaws and others guilty of misdemeanors the embarrassment of going to jail over nonpayment of their fine, said Municipal Judge Nancy Thomas

“If they don’t want to go to jail, they need to show up and pay their fine or someone will be contacting them,” she said.

Though it doesn’t apply to delinquent fines, some offenders who do not have the money to pay the court are allowed to work off their debt.

“It’s hard with the economy, but we do have community service,” Thomas said.

Money collected from court fines is split between the city and state, with the state typically receiving the lion’s share though the exact percentages vary from ticket to ticket, Carter said.