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Norfolk County, Ontario, Canada, plans to hire a third collection agency to recoup more than $3 million in unpaid fines from the Provincial Act Offences court it runs. The idea is to create competition to chase the delinquencies in the hope of clearing up the backlog.

Under the terms of the contract, the more collections a company brings in, the more files the county will give it the next year - "causing all agencies to strive for greater success," according to a report by the court.

In 2001, Ontario's municipalities were handed the responsibility of prosecuting everything from speeding tickets to trespassing charges to labour and environmental law violations, work that the province once handled. Towns and cities had to set up staff and courtrooms and are now saddled with collecting unpaid fines.

Norfolk writes close to $1 million a year in fines and fails to collect an average of about $100,000 a year, said Frank Gelinas, the county's manager of corporate services.

It also inherited a large but unspecified amount of fines from the 2001 takeover and does not write off collections unless someone dies. Some of the uncollected fines date 10 years or more. Drivers licences can be suspended and licence plate renewals refused for those who do not pay. "Some people are refusing to pay just because they're refusing to pay it," says Andrew Buttenham, collections clerk for Norfolk's PAO office, which handles large fines while sending smaller ones to the collection agencies.

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