LAMPASAS — County commissioners heard a request Tuesday from Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Andrew Garcia Jr. and others to allow a third-party vendor to collect more than $1 million in fines and fees long overdue in the justice of the peace court system.
In Garcia’s precinct, about $795,000 in fines and fees are currently past due, with some of the cases going back 10 years, he said.
Although all precincts work on collection efforts, including issuing warrants for the arrest of individuals with outstanding penalties and notifying the Department of Public Safety to prevent driver’s license renewals, the advent of online and automatic renewals allows some violators to simply fall through the cracks.
“We are currently collecting zero in outstanding court fees and fines for the justice of the peace courts,” Garcia said. “It’s difficult for staff to keep up with the volume of work, in addition to having to provide collection services.”
Dan Romo, marketing manager with Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson LLP law firm, gave commissioners an outline of the benefits his company provides as a collection service vendor.
“We’re just basically another tool in the toolbox and another clerk for the court,” Romo said. “We direct all the money to the court, and we just go through the normal course of action in how they pay. The goal of the system is to let them know of their obligation to the court while providing a firm and fair approach.”
Romo’s firm specializes in representing the collection efforts of city and county government entities, he said, and currently has 55 clients throughout Texas. The firm adds a 30 percent fee to the amount owed by the violator, so if the court doesn’t get paid, his firm doesn’t get paid.
He assured Lampasas officials no costs would be incurred by the county.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Lowell Ivey said a similar system was attempted a few years ago, with negative results.
“I don’t know what’s different about this system from the one that didn’t work then,” Ivey said.
Garcia said when he took office in 2007, a lengthy, handwritten docket system was used that cost more in man-hours and maintenance than the county could afford.
“With the automated system that’s in place now, it’s a completely different ball game,” Garcia said. “Technology has advanced, and this is completely different from any collection system in the past.”
Precinct 2 Commissioner Alex Wittenburg said he had no intention of making a decision Tuesday, as he had learned of the agenda item just minutes before the meeting began.
The item was tabled until the court’s June 10 meeting to give the commissioners and County Auditor Chris Munn more time to review the system.
In other business, commissioners agreed to reimburse an $11 commercial drivers license endorsement fee for employees who need it to operate county vehicles.
Currently, county employees are exempt from the $75 physical exam fee required for a CDL if they operate a commercial vehicle only for county business and need only pay the endorsement fee.