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County says fine collection work pays off

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River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

A collections pilot project in the St. Croix County clerk of courts office was successful enough that administrators are recommending continuing it.

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As a temporary measure, two workers from the Child Support Agency spent part of their time for six months working with delinquent fines and forfeitures and brought in $17,472 -- $156 per hour worked on the project, according to a report submitted by Clerk of Court Lori Meyer and Child Support Administrator Katy Kapaun.

"The project was very successful. We're pleased with the bottom line," said Meyer, reporting to the Finance Committee last Thursday.

A new collection clerk would cost the county $56,597 a year -- $37,232 for salary and $19,365 for fringe benefits -- but would bring in an estimated $149,760 in revenue annually, said Meyer.

She said 56 hours of the child support clerks' initial time was spent in training and didn't bring in revenue, but funds are still coming in now.

Meyer said, from their experience, workers believe collections are directly linked to the hours invested, more time is needed for follow-up with individuals, the process should begin immediately after the fine is imposed rather than after it becomes delinquent, and one person should work with individuals to develop a relationship.

The skills needed for this type of work are both social work and enforcement, according to the report. Child support staff said it's important to establish a relationship up front, but once a defendant falls behind on his payment plan, it's just as important to follow through with enforcement actions.

"We need new tools," added Meyer. She suggested using credit bureaus and a clearinghouse that can be used to verify employment.

Meyer plans that a new worker would spend 20 hours a week collecting past-due accounts and the other 20 hours meeting with defendants to set up payment plans and terms for enforcement.

"I need to be persuaded that we should spend hard dollars, actual budget dollars, to try and collect money that is justifiably owed us," responded Supervisor Daryl Standafer, North Hudson.

Staff kept good records of their efforts, replied Meyer.

"There were already warrants out for these people," said Kapaun. "They had already not paid."

"You're getting the cream of the crop off the top. You're getting the easy ones," said Standafer. He said once workers get down to the hard-core delinquencies, the collection rate might drop to half the pilot project rate.

An incredible number of defendants are on payment plans now and it will be easier to collect that money if there is some one to keep after collections before they become delinquent, said Clerk of Court Office Manager Kristi Severson.

Finance Committee members voted 3-2 to take the issue to the County Board at its August meeting.

Standafer voted no, saying he still isn't "adequately persuaded."

"I'm just not there yet," he said. "I can get there maybe, but I'm not there yet."

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