Collection agency hired for delinquent court cases
By: John Brannon Messenger Staff Reporter
By JOHN BRANNON
Messenger Staff Reporter
A collection agency based in Columbia has been hired to recoup delinquent fines, fees and court costs for Obion County General Sessions and Circuit courts.
Circuit Court Clerk Harry Johnson briefed the Obion County Commission this week about the agency, Solutia TCA, and recommended it be hired. He was accompanied by Van Hudson, Solutia director of business development.
Johnson said he had contacted several circuit court clerks in the state who use Solutia’s services and has gotten positive remarks. He said he had also secured the approval of General Sessions Court Judge Raymond Morris and Circuit Court Judge Bill Acree Jr.
“Also, (county attorney) Steve Conley thinks it would be a good thing to do,” said Johnson, who estimates delinquent accounts total “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Hudson gave the commission a brief history of the company. He said its collection program is active in several cities and 25 counties statewide. He assured commissioners the collection program would be done at no cost to the county.
After discussion, and on motion by county commissioner Richard Arnold, seconded by county commissioner Dwayne Hensley, the commission voted unanimously to hire the company.
Johnson said the fact that Obion County has a lot of uncollected debts on the books is not unique, that every county in the state has the same problem.
“This is kind of a new thing for me. I felt that if I sat here and did nothing, I would be neglecting what I should be doing,” he said. “What people don’t understand is, we deal with a whole different clientele. Our customers, in most cases, don’t come here voluntarily, and they sure as heck don’t want to have to pay when they do come.”
Johnson said he’s going to give Solutia a try. And if it doesn’t look like it’s working or he’s not satisfied with it, he will terminate the service. “I talked to other circuit clerks who hired them. None said they wish they hadn’t,” he said.
Solutia will begin its collection program July 1. Johnson said they will concentrate on delinquent accounts — unpaid traffic tickets, court costs and fees, and such — dating back to 1993 when the file system was computerized.
Hudson said it’s a little known fact, but you can take an unpaid traffic ticket written in 1995 and not only collect the base amount but also interest and additional fees. “Say the fine was $150,” he said, “well, it’s going to be close to $385 now because of interest, additional fees, fines and so forth. The state can charge interest. It has to wait a minimum of six months. Nothing can be turned over for collection until after six months. By then, the person’s drivers license has been suspended, and other court notifications have gone out.”
There are thousands and thousands of delinquent accounts at courthouses throughout the state. Why have they not been collected? “Most counties simply do not have the people. That’s the problem with court systems. They just don’t have the personnel to do it,” Hudson said. “Each delinquent account will have to be gone into and refigured.”
And what is Solutia’s cut in collecting delinquent accounts for the courts? “We take a flat $50 fee,” Hudson said.
He said Solutia starts its program by pulling those accounts one or two years old and send out letters. “All these delinquent accounts are a matter of public record,” he said. “We take the ones that are most current and work back. We run through check systems and credit scoring systems. We have to come up with new addresses and phone numbers.
“Those most current are going to get a letter,” he said.
And what will the letters say?
“That you have a court case account that’s past due, and we’ll give the amount,” Hudson said. “And it has contact information so they can contact us. We make it easy as we can for people to pay. They can pay by check by phone, check by mail, credit card, debit card, online or by phone.
“We work out payment plans, whatever is necessary. We work with these people in any way we can. You can’t just go out and dun people to get payment. You have to find out what their situation is and how you can work with them.”
And what will Obion County get out of the deal?
“Counties can retain up to 50 percent if it’s turned over to a professional collection agency,” Hudson said. “We’ve been in business since 1963. We started out as Tennessee Adjustment Service, doing medical collections.”
Published in The Messenger 5.22.08