BRIDGETON — Local officials say the city is the first municipality in New Jersey authorized by the state to have a private company collect outstanding municipal court fines.
Milwaukee-based Duncan Solutions will now try to recover slightly more than $3.3 million owed the city in unpaid municipal fines.
Duncan Solutions — which started working with the city about three weeks ago — will get 22 cents of every dollar collected, said Kevin Rabago of the city’s Office of Development and Planning.
City officials said they turned to a private company because the small municipal court staff just does not have the time to adequately pursue outstanding fines, some of which have been owed for several years.
“You’ve got a limited court staff,” Rabago said. “A lot of the time and focus is on processing current summonses and other cases that they have to deal with.”
“Given the economic landscape the last few years, we, like so many others, have had to do more with less,” Mayor Albert Kelly said. “That means using new tools provided by the state to enable us to collect potentially lost revenue.”
The state Supreme Court several years ago authorized the state’s court system to develop strict guidelines under which municipalities could turn over the collection of municipal court fines to private companies.
Local officials said the system developed for Duncan Solutions to use was approved by the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts. Officials with that agency weren’t available for comment Thursday.
Acting Municipal Court Administrator Marie Wells said judges allow people to pay fines in full or through a payment plan. An account becomes eligible for collections when people have not made any court-ordered payments during a 12-month period, she said.
“Once a fine is pending collection, the delinquent payer is sent a final notice that the fine must be completely paid within 30 days,” Wells said. “Failure to completely pay the fine results in … the delinquent account (being) turned over to the collection agency.”
Kelly said the city is doing mirrors what companies in the private sector do to collect.
“It does no good for the judge to impose fines if the offender is never compelled to pay them, we’ve decided it’s time to lead the way in this new approach,” he said.
Duncan Solutions says on its website it uses “outbound calling, inbound call answering, aggressive skip tracing and collection notices.” The company says it also offers optional credit-bureau reporting, tax intercept, tax offset and “other special-collection enablers.”
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