When the state of Texas hits counties with a mandated program, commissioners courts have no choice but to raise a wary eyebrow. Too often, a “county shall” comes down the pike with no funding to back it up, leaving the county to scramble for support (the mandated constitutional amendment election later this month a case in point).
However, every now and then a decision comes down with the potential to pay for itself and possibly bring in revenue. During the 79th Legislature, 54 counties encountered such a mandate in the form of Senate Bill 1863, requiring counties of 50,000 or more to develop and implement a program to collect court costs, fees and fines imposed in criminal cases to include district, county and justice courts, unless granted a waiver. The programs must:
conform with a model developed by the Office of Court Administration (OCA) of the Texas Judicial System designed to improve in-house collections through application of best practices; and
improve collection of balances more than 60 days past due, which may be implemented by entering into a contract with a private attorney or public or private vendor.
Affected counties are audited for compliance by the Office of the Comptroller, and counties that do not meet the requirements may lose a percentage of fees collected.
The statute required a portion of the affected counties to develop an improvement program by April 1, 2006; the remaining counties were given an April 1, 2007, deadline. As of press time, 96 percent of the 54 counties were in compliance, with some already reporting profits.
Money in Hand
As part of its program, Parker County’s Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace mailed out 569 warrant postcards with the following results:
148 cards returned: researched addresses, resent, 45 returned, 3 paid
Total postage spent $179.25
Collected on 77 cases for a total amount of $11,620.16
Closed 21 cases by jail time credit or deceased people
TOTAL PROFIT OF $11,440.91
“The postcard is such a simple and inexpensive tool to collect outstanding fines,” said Justice of the Peace Suzie Merkley. “We even printed our own cards