November 17, 2013
City contractor will collect delinquent court debts
The Kilgore City Council voted to enter into an agreement with Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson, LLP (LGBS) for the firm to provide collection services for the city’s municipal court.
The firm has worked with the city to collect delinquent property taxes, and LGBS tax attorney John Bolster said the firm is the largest collection firm in the country specializing in collecting governmental debt.
“We’re not a private debt collector at all,” he said. “All of our clients are governmental entities.”
Bolster presented the agreement that would allow LGBS to collect municipal court debt, stemming from Class C misdemeanors and missed court appearances, in addition to delinquent property taxes.
“We’re talking about monies to the city on Class C misdemeanors, which the vast majority of those are going to be traffic violations, although there may be a few code violations and things like that,” he said.
The firm would work on cases once a person has avoided appearing in court for a Class C misdemeanor long enough for an arrest warrant to be issued. The earliest a case can be turned over to LGBS is once the warrant is issued, as soon as 60 days after the original court date. The firm works with the municipal court to decide when would be best for the firm to take over cases.
“As you’re probably aware, if you were to really arrest everybody, that would probably be a money-losing business because it costs you money to put people in jail,” Bolster said. “So, ideally, you want to just get these people to pay their fines.”
Arrest is not much of a threat to people who receive a violation while passing through Kilgore, so Bolster said LGBS can step in to help resolve these cases. The firm can also help the city when it comes to violators who give the police officer an incorrect address.
“We spend millions of dollars on having the latest, upto date skip-tracing abilities, so we do track down these people,” he said, adding they contact the people through letters and phone calls.
LGBS is a debt collection firm made up of lawyers, so Bolster said they make sure to follow all regulations on phone calls and letters, including only calling people during reasonable hours.
“We are constantly monitoring what the legal requirements are to do this,” he said.
Due to the public nature of the entities LGBS works with, Bolster said the firm’s goal is not to collect as much money as they can get.
“We will collect you additional dollars for your court,” he said, “but we will do so, at all times, showing the offender in this case, or the defendant in these cases, respect while doing it.”
The firm only acts when there is a monetary resolution to the case, though, he said. If the judge decides that some cases just deserve community service instead of a fine, then the LGBS would not act on the case.
“We only get our fees when we collect monies for the city,” he said, adding that this is true even when the person appears in court after receiving a letter from LGBS. “And we do not impose any limitations on what your judge can rule from the bench to resolve these cases.”
With a central office in Longview, he said people could also have the option of paying the fines in person. Besides paying in person, Bolster said people would be able to pay online.
“This is a great way for the city to see some increase in revenue without having to raise taxes or even raise fees,” Bolster said. “It’s just increasing your collection rate.”
The council voted unanimously to authorize Mayor Ronnie Spradlin to sign a contract with LGBS once a mutually-agreeable contract is made between the firm and the city’s attorney.
The plan to start collecting this debt is in January 2014, which would coincide with people’s income tax returns, Bolster said. A letter from LGBS at that time would explain that a warrant roundup is happening in Texas, but it would not specify that Kilgore is necessarily taking part in it.
The oldest delinquent fine is seven years, which is how long the court maintains the fines.
Bolster presented the agreement’s secondary item, Ordinance No. 1597, which would allow for additional fees of 30 percent to be included on the delinquent tax collection. This fee covers the cost of legal services from LGBS, which allows the city to get the full amount of the violation fine and the fee from failing to appear in court.
The ordinance passed unanimously.
The council also adopted Resolution No. 14-08 the Master Fee schedule to add the 30 percent fee to the schedule.
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