published Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

Marion collection agency bids put on hold

By Ryan Lewis/Correspondent
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JASPER, Tenn. — Marion County’s attempt to hire a collection agency for unpaid court fines has been put on hold while officials investigate another option.

Mayor John Graham said the county received two bids last month for the job, and County Attorney Billy Gouger has reviewed both organizations. However, a new opportunity presented itself before commissioners reviewed the bids.

“After the fact, and before [the board] has had a chance to approve one of them, we’ve been contacted by another entity that claims it can give 100 percent [of the fines] back to the county,” Graham said.

He did not identify the company, but said he doesn’t know how it can do the work at no cost to the county.

The company has similar contracts with 40 counties across the state, he said.

Officials said Graham will speak with the company’s representatives this week.

“It might sound too good to be true, but I think we should at least listen to them,” Graham said. “If they are with 40 counties, they must be doing something right.”

In April, David McGovern, an assistant district attorney for the 12th Judicial District, said the county had more than $201,000 in uncollected fines and costs in the past year.

Commission Chairman Gene Hargis estimated the county has lost nearly $1.5 million in unpaid court fines over the past decade.

Whatever commissioners do next will depend on the results of the meeting, Gouger said.

“We’ll let the mayor talk with them first,” he said. “If it truly is a no-cost proposal, then we’ll take that next step.”

If the county finds a more suitable deal, Gouger said, commissioners formally must reject the bids they’ve already received. Then they would have to rebid the debt collection services contract.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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