Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Backlog of Municipal Court fines impacts budget

Traffic, parking and other fines add up for municipalities.
One of the few sparks at Monday's Plainfield City Council meeting concerned the Robinson-Briggs administration's proposal to outsource collection of unpaid fines levied by the Plainfield Municipal Court.

Administration and Finance Director Al Restaino approached the Council table (once again) on this matter, saying the Robinson-Briggs administration was seeking permission to issue an RFP to find firms qualified to perform the job.

Councilor Bill Reid announced that he would not support the outsourcing effort; he was joined by Councilor Greaves, meaning that without consensus, it will not appear on next Monday's business agenda.

What is going on here?

Plainfield's Municipal Court levies fines in many of the matters that come before it (traffic violations, parking violations, code enforcement infractions and other minor offenses against the City's charter and code). Anyone who has sat through traffic court will know that a sizeable proportion of the cases involve non-Plainfielders, so collecting the fines is not simply a matter of squeezing residents.

These fines add up, and are an important element in balancing the city's budget. While only a portion of the fines go into the city's general fund, they are an important source of funding for the Municipal Court.

The amount bandied about in discussion last evening was $750,000, which is a sizeable sum for uncollected items. (Mayor Al McWilliams hit the ceiling when he first took office and found a backlog of over $800,000 in uncollected fines.)

Adding to the problem is that many fines are paid on an installment basis, creating a bookkeeping complexity. And when the fines go unpaid bench warrants may be issued for the scofflaws.

In order to keep this enduring problem from getting out of hand (as it seems  to have once again), it is important for the chief executive -- in this case Mayor Robinson-Briggs -- to have a clear focus and consistent procedures for handling unpaid court fines.

There is no clear reason why the responsibility should fall to the Department of Administration and Finance.

One would think the Robinson-Briggs administration would first look to internal possibilities for enforcement, rather than outsourcing. That would mean a discussion about the Police Division's warrant squad and why the responsibility should not fall to it, at least in the first instance.

Secondly, before the City outsources, shouldn't the possibility of using the Constables the Robinson-Briggs administration insisted we needed be addressed?

Both these options would put the responsibility under the Director of Public Safety, which to my mind is more appropriate since collecting the fines is part of enforcing a court order and not just a fiscal chore (which using Admin and Finance implies).

In any event, one has to ask where Her Honor's attention has been for the past six and a half years -- the problem is not one that has arisen overnight.

Hopefully, the Council will have a more thorough discussion if the Robinson-Briggs administration chooses to pursue the matter further.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...

Martin Hellwig do his job?

Bernice said...

Municipal Court is under Administration & Finance, so Restaino is the proper department head.

Bob said...

I'm glad to see Reid and Rivers are concerned about this. Sharon has never paid attention to the details of any part of her administration. We need law enforcement to get involved with this, as it is a defying of a court order. Too many people think the day to day running of the city is the City Council's responsibility. IT IS THE MAYOR'S RESPONSIBILITY, NO ONE ELSE'S. Won't we be glad when we have responsible leadership in Plainfield City Hall.

Anonymous said...

Here's what is going on. Reid and Greaves haven't paid last quarter taxes. So, if it comes to them getting the courts to collect, they may be getting a call.

Listen people of Plainfield, look at your tax bill. There are two numbers on the bill. One is the number you pay. Under that number is what is subsidized by the state. I believe that bottom number includes the school budget. If you remember, the Abbott district funding is going away in a few years, so your taxes may go up as much as 100% plus (add the two numbers together and see what you get).

I bring this up because we need all the relief we can get. We have no business downtown to help cut the costs, so at the very least, let the people who have outstanding fines pay up.

However, it appears that Greaves and Reid don't pay their fare share, so I guess they believe that no one else should either.

Shameful to have such people represent us. Wards 1 & 4 are you awake? Does this not matter to you?

Anonymous said...

Dan, the catagory "uncollected fines" seems to be comparable to a business's "accounts receivable." It takes time for people to pay. As it is, the state has procedures in place to compel payment, most appreciably suspension of driving privileges for traffic offenses. Since the amount of uncollected fines is less than when McWilliams took office, it is hard to argue that the problem is growing.

What I see is the Mayor looking again to give unnecessary business to a private company that will siphon off public money in collection fees. I always suspect pay to play is involved.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

As I remember it, the county courts sent in someone to straighten things out years ago. (I happen to know the man) Maybe we need an outsider to take charge with the authority given by the State Attorney General!

Anonymous said...

can we outsource the mayor?
Just sayin'