The Jersey City, N.J. government has approved a five-year contract with a collection agency and parking services company to track down millions of dollars in delinquent municipal court fines.
The City Council last week approved the contract with Duncan Solutions, a Milwaukee, Wis.-based firm that will earn a percentage of the money it recoups. New Jersey municipalities were given the go-ahead to use debt collectors to gather unpaid fines by a 2011 state Supreme Court rule. Bridgeton, N.J. was the first city permitted to collect fines via a debt collector.
“Jersey City has about 19,000 uncollected cases representing a little over $7 million, about $3.3 million [of which] would come directly to the city,” Bob Davis, a former fiscal officer of the Jersey City Municipal Court, told city officials. The rest of the money will go to the state. “The court does not have the staff to do collections. They’re also restricted by the Administrative Office of the Court (AOC) in how those collections can be made. But the AOC recently allowed municipal courts through the state to [contract] with a collection agency, under strict guidelines, to recoup those fines.”
Duncan Solutions Regional Account Manager Greg Salerno said the firm understands the sensitivity of collecting for debtors, especially in difficult economic times. "In contacting them our philosophy is, we will work with you if you work with us. This is not beating people over the head with a hammer. This is not calling people at crazy hours.”
Matthew Weng, attorney for the New Jersey League of Municipalities, says the lobbying group is “very happy” municipalities now have the option of using an outside debt collector. With a 2% tax-levy cap, cities are struggling to come up with cash, and are too understaffed to do it on their own, he adds.
“There’s a lot of money out there in uncollected court debt, and it’s money that’s legitimately owed by these individuals, who for whatever reason have decided not to pay,” he said.
The Jersey City Municipal Court brought in $9.9 million in fines last year, and this year expects to rake in $12.7 million.