LAMPASAS — Hoping to collect more than $1 million in unpaid fines owed to the justice of the peace court system, county commissioners Monday hired the law firm, Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson LLP, to handle collections.

The county does not pay for the service, as the firm, which specializes in collection efforts for city and county governments, is compensated by adding a 30 percent fee to the amounts owed.

Dan Romo, the law firm’s marketing manager, said the county is not a “free line of credit.”

“There comes a time where you have to get tough with people to get them back into the fold,” he said. “Our intention is to help small counties such as Lampasas to collect, and we give the judges a lot of leeway in that area. Unfortunately, you have people who try to take advantage of the system.”

Commissioner Lowell Ivey voiced concern about the law firm’s 30 percent fee keeping cash-strapped defendants from paying their outstanding debts.

“Eighty percent or more aren’t going to do anything anyway, but if we can get even 10 or 15 percent of the ones that are out there, that would help,” said Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Andrew Garcia Jr.

In May, Garcia asked commissioners for help collecting the fines, some of which date back 10 years.

County Auditor Chris Munn suggested the county implement an amnesty program before contracting with the law firm. He also requested the county amend the contract to include a 30-day rather than a 60-day termination clause, and he asked for the opportunity to work closely with the firm to track its success rate on collections.

In other business, Munn updated commissioners on his search for health care providers for county employees and their family members.

“What we’re doing now is interviewing brokers who will go out to carriers for health care bids,” he said. “This discussion just serves as notice that we are trying to get something done.”

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