County to scrutinize fine collections

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115999407631613.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Mary Ann Aiello (R-9) pushes to cut FCU funding during the Sept. 28 County Board meeting.’);

Amid GOP and Democrat debates to approve the 2007 budget, the Winnebago County Board managed to almost unanimously agree to cut funding to the county’s Financial Compliance Unit (FCU), a major and rare defeat for State’s Attorney Paul Logli.

Mary Ann Aiello (R-9) proposed a decrease of $237,033 in the FCU’s funding. Aiello alleged that the FCU, which was formed five years ago, is not effective in collecting fines and other court fees. The proposal would only fund the FCU for the next six months, while the county re-evaluates the program’s efficiency and considers other collection options.

“I think, at this point, we owe the taxpayers an explanation of why in five years it hasn’t done what it’s supposed to,” Aiello said.

District 4 Republican Chris Johnson seconded the motion, citing a report from Loves Park indicating that of 1,200 traffic fines issued, only 58 percent had been paid. The remaining 42 percent amounts to $248,000 in uncollected fines in Loves Park alone for the October 2005 to June 2006 period.

“Villages in my district are complaining that they’re not receiving the monies that they think they’ve levied in fines,” Johnson said. “I, too, champion the outsourcing of our collection duties, and believe that if we can’t come up with some significant amount, or explanation or justification, that the county board of the future should have the ability to look at this in the next three to six months and decide whether or not they want the FCU to continue.”

With a 24-1 vote, Tim Simms (R-14) voiced the only opposition, and referred to Johnson’s remarks by saying: “Let them go collect their own money, if they think they can do a better job.”

Simms noted the FCU operates on 5 cents of every dollar they collect and pushed for a full year’s funding. However, the county’s general fund provided $449,000 to run the FCU, but the FCU only collected $184,000 in fines, for a cost of $265,000.

District 5 Republican Pete MacKay supported the cut, saying: “I think there are problems. I think there are concerns, and I think Mrs. Aiello has got the best interim answer for that right now.”

George Anne Duckett (D-12) stated she’s been against the FCU from the beginning.

“It shouldn’t take five years,” Duckett said. “If I couldn’t do a job in five years, I’d be gone.” She added Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli is not a collection agency.

Materials distributed by Logli’s office to board members before the vote purported the FCU budget of $449,000 “translates to a cost of collections of 8.8 percent, which certainly compares favorably with any private sector collection agency.”

Phil Johnson, a District 8 Democrat, reminded the board of how often the FCU has been debated.

“If something was working, we wouldn’t hear anything about it,” Johnson explained. “It’s time to make some changes.”

Pearl Hawks (D-6) asked Aiello what other contractors would cost the county. Aiello had no numbers yet.

District 4 Republican John Harmon defended Logli’s efforts, but acknowledged problems. He blamed limited resources and lack of cooperation for outstanding collections. Harmon referred to people walking out of the courthouse without paying their fines and offered that stepping up enforcement on that end could help.

In the end, Simms cast the sole “no” vote, and the FCU will, for now, only receive six months worth of funding while the board considers all options.

From the Oct. 4-10, 2006, issue

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