By Jordan Cohen
The collection agency hired by city council last week for municipal court will seek to recover more than $250,000 in delinquent fines and costs, some of which may go back to the 1990s.
“We’re still checking, but I’m comfortable saying we’re owed more than a quarter-million,” said Paul Lawrence, clerk of courts. “We’re looking at records beginning in 1996 when we were first computerized.”
The city has hired Capital Recovery Systems Inc., of Gahanna, the same collection agency used by municipal courts in Newton Falls, Warren and Youngstown.
Lawrence said that fines and costs amounted to about $1.3 million since computerization began, but most of the amount is probably not delinquent.
“A lot of these people are making payments on a payment plan, and as long as they are, they don’t have to worry about the agency,” Lawrence said. “The only people we’re going after are those who owe us money and don’t pay.”
Lawrence said the court occasionally has issued block warrants on delinquent individuals that bar them from auto registration until they pay and occasional driver’s license forfeitures; however, there have been few arrest warrants for delinquent fines.
“When they’re arrested, they try to ‘game’ the system and make us take care of their medical needs, which we have to do,” Lawrence said.
“It was happening all the time,” said police Chief Robert Hinton. That issue along with other operating costs led Niles to convert the jail to an eight-hour holding facility and house its prisoners in Trumbull County Jail.
Courts in Newton Falls and Warren report significant delinquency recoveries since the agency was hired. Newton Falls Municipal Judge Philip Vigorito said Capital Recovery has collected more than $64,000 owed to the court since 2010.
“We collected our full debt, and I’ve used them ever since,” Vigorito said.
Warren Municipal Court Clerk Peggy Scott said that the city has recovered more than $237,000 in delinquent funds and expects that amount to increase as the agency continues its work.
“We give [people] a payment plan and a grace period of up to two weeks to make a payment, but if they do nothing, then boom — it goes to the collection agency,” Scott said.
Craig Klein, president and chief executive officer of Capital Recovery, said his company is paid through a 30 percent fee that is added onto the delinquent bills by the courts.
“The court then disburses the fee to us and gets 100 percent of the money it is owed,” Klein said. “If we only collect a partial payment, we don’t get paid, but the delinquent balance stays on their court records.”
Asked why the decision to hire the agency was not made earlier, Lawrence said the court relied “on the tools we had to work with, such as the block warrants and forfeitures, but after (Niles Municipal Court) Judge (Thomas) Townley spoke with Judge Vigorito about turning this over, he made the decision.
“It’s not like we’re not bringing in money,” Lawrence said. “We take in around $100,000 monthly.”
Lawrence said that because of the 16-year time period under examination, some of the money may never be recovered because of either deaths or inability to locate residents who have moved from Niles.
“We’ve never done anything like this before, but we must have a lot of delinquents,” Lawrence said.