Carbon Hill to collect court fines in checks, cards

By ED HOWELL
Posted 5/16/19

CARBON HILL - The Carbon Hill City Council voted Monday night to confirm a recent standing order from Municipal Judge Ken Guin’s concerning how payments are to be received for municipal …

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Carbon Hill to collect court fines in checks, cards

Posted

CARBON HILL - The Carbon Hill City Council voted Monday night to confirm a recent standing order from Municipal Judge Ken Guin’s concerning how payments are to be received for municipal court.

District 3 Councilwoman April Kennedy Herron, District 4 Councilman Chandler Gann and District 5 Councilman Jason Chambers were absent from the meeting.

The council delayed the decision from last month. At that time, City Clerk Nanette Brown said currently anyone paying fines, restitutions or court costs can pay only cash or money order, unless a lawyer’s check is used. Guin’s order — which can be overturned by the city council for just cause — would allow personal checks, money orders, cash, debit cards, credit cards and bank drafts.

Currently in the county, only Jasper and Cordova take personal checks, she said at the time.

Guin spoke to the council Monday, at the invitation of District 1 Councilman McClain Burrough. Mayor Mark Chambers said some on the council were confused about the order. 

Several weeks ago, someone from outside of town appeared before the court and wanted to pay a check, Guin said, which was accepted that day. 

"I had been asking for as long as I've been your judge, 'Why don't we accept checks?'" Guin said. The answer has been simply that it was never done.

Many courts are now accepting credit cards, as many people now ask to use a debit card in court and many don't even have checks. Guin said it seem logical to make the move. He said Double Springs takes credit cards, for example. 

"It's not a complicated process," Guin said, noting he got a plug-in for his phone so he could swipe cards at his own law office. Also, he noted he used his card recently to pay for his car tag. 

"If we can accept something and put someone on reoccurring payments while they are in court, we will collect their money more efficiently," he said.

He said 1,500 people owe the city out of 2,500 cases, he said, amounting to over $700,000. "There is no real mechanism to go around and try to collect that," he said, adding to collect more upfront will help in the long term. No all will be collectible. 

Guin said the cost is not much to use the system, which would charge the a percentage cost. He said he would want to check with the state to see if the fee can be added on to what the defendant pays when fined. Even if that can't be done, Guin feels the city will bring in more money than what is coming in now. 

Chambers noted that Guin has been able to collect more money than has been collected in the past. 

While complementing Brown and her work, Guin also notes that the city's system in an "all cash business" where one person counts the money and one deposits it. "That is a situation that, if I were Nannette, I wouldn't want to be in," he said. "I would want to do away with as much cash money as we have coming in." Having an electronic system or even a check, which leaves a paper trail, is much better to have, he said.

If a check were to bounce, it would be a criminal action which sometimes results in felony charges, he said in response to a question from District 5 Councilman Greg Anderson. "They can be picked up and put in jail for it," Guin said, saying it is easier for the court to deal with a bounced check than if someone didn't keep up cash payments. 

In other action Monday, the council: 

• Discussed problems with people bringing as many as 15 or 20 bags of garbage to put beside garbage cans for actual customers. Chambers said he has monitored the situation for several months, calling it a big problem where the same action happens at the same households every week. "There are a lot of people's garbage that we pick up who don't live here," he said, saying sometimes it involve out-of-town relatives. Anderson and Chamber said they have recently watched examples of it in person. Anderson suggested sending letters to say if customers don't address the situation, the city will. Street Superintendent Alan May said the city, which runs routes twice a week, picks up all the bags, noting that he has seen where suddenly 20 bags will show up around household cans. "Everyone is not doing this," Chambers said, saying 10 to 12 households in Carbon Hill "are taking advantage" of the city. Guin said the action involves littering, which is a crime and they can be arrested and fined. Chambers suggested sending out the letters for now, and addressing the situation if households don't respond. 

• Heard the community center will be open on Friday, May 24, for anyone who wants to celebrate with the 2019 Carbon Hill High School graduation class immediately following their graduation ceremony that night. 

• Heard that the City Hall will be closed for Memorial Day and no garbage routes will be run. Efforts are being made to open up the swimming pool that day for free, provided needed maintenance is done on time. 

• Moved the May 27 council meeting to Monday, May 20, at 6:30 p.m. due to Memorial Day falling on May 27.