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Trinity Standard - Local News

Copyright 2011 - Polk County Publishing Company

Jail time eyed for failure to pay fines
Trinity Standard -

GROVETON – A plan to crack down on those who fail to pay Class C misdemeanor fines and fees was outlined Monday for Trinity County commissioners during their meeting in Groveton. Pct. 1 Constable Woody Wallace said he wanted to touch base with commissioners because the crack down could mean additional costs when those who refuse to pay their fines find themselves locked up in the Trinity County Jail. “Right now, we have a lot of people who are refusing to pay their fines because they don’t think the county will do anything to them,” Wallace said. He said that based on information obtained from the Precinct 1, 2 and 3 justice of the peace offices, he has calculated that there is about $2.5 million in unpaid fines and fees owed to the county. Wallace said he also contact the Precinct 4 JP office but was told that very little Class C misdemeanor fine money was outstanding at this time. While not all of the outstanding fines can be collected, Wallace said much of it could be if people who owe the money realize they could be arrest and placed in jail. “If we do start locking these people up, its going to cost the county more in terms of jail costs, but I think we can more than make up that expense in the long run,” he said. Currently, when people are convicted in JP court of a Class C misdemeanor -- crimes punishable only by fines -- they will either pay the full amount or set up a payment plan with the court. “The trouble is a lot of the time when they promise to pay the fine, they don’t. A warrant is then issued by the court and the person is brought back before the judge,” the constable explained. Because of the expense involved in placing the person in jail, Wallace said JPs have been very reluctant to lock them up for violating the payment agreement. Instead, the JPs have been negotiating new payment plans for these offenders and then releasing them. “The problem is that word has gotten out that the county won’t do anything to them if they don’t pay, so they violate the new payment agreement and it starts all over again,” Wallace said. He noted when placed in jail, the Class C offenders are held until either the fine is paid or until they serve enough time to offset the total amount due. Those held in this manner are credited with about $40 per day against the fines they owe. County Attorney Joe Bell noted that in some cases, the offenders cannot be placed in jail. He explained that if the person is indigent and can’t pay the fine, federal courts have said they cannot be placed in jail. “They have ruled that you can’t lock someone up just for being poor,” he said. Instead, he said they could be ordered to perform some type of community service work in lieu of the fines. Wallace noted he believes most of those who owe the county fines and fees do not fit the definition of indigent. He said if given the green light by commissioners, the local JPs are prepared to begin ordering jail time to those who violate their promise to pay. While indicating they would like to keep an eye on the costs, commissioners voiced no objections to the plan. “I’ve always had confidence in our judges,” Pct. 1 Commissioner Grover “Tiger” Worsham said. “If they say they need to be in jail, then I feel they need to be in jail.” During his presentation, Wallace also discussed a plan to generate money to pay his deputy constables at least minimum wage for the hours they put in. Currently, all deputy constables are unpaid while the elected constables receive a part-time salary. The deputy constables do receive fees for serving civil papers but not for serving criminal warrants. Wallace noted that those who file a criminal complaint in JP court – such as in hot check cases – pay a $50 service fee but that goes into the county treasury. Wallace suggested putting that fee into a special fund and using that to pay his part-time deputies a small hourly salary. Commissioners suggested that Wallace meet with County Auditor Sheila Johnson and Bell to try to work out a formal plan and then present it to the commissioners for consideration at a future meeting. Other action During the meeting, commissioners also: • Voted to give 258th District Attorney Joe Ned Dean a $300 per month salary supplement. Dean told commissioners Monday that he recently discovered that under state law he had been entitled to the monthly supplement since taking office in April 2004. He asked that the county begin paying him the money starting Jan. 1 – which commissioners agreed to do – and requested they consider paying a percentage of the money dating back to 2004 into his retirement account. Commissioners indicated they wanted to see how much money would be owed to the retirement fund before taking action on that part of Dean’s request. • Appointed the members of the Trinity County Historical Commission for the 2011-2012 term. Officers include Chair Margie Wheeler, Vice Chair Susanne Walker, Secretary Jessica Parrish and Treasurer John Lankford. Other members include Virginia Arnold, Patricia Coleman, Rita Danford, Clell Davis, Mellowayne Davis, Jo Hall Hall, Anna Hester, Patricia McCartney, Darlene Pyle, Rachel Stevenson, Jo Ann West and Melva Y. Whitehead. Honorary members include Thelma Terry, Beck Rollins, Mary Abshier and Elaine Lockhart. •Approved the payment of $1,314.41 as a supplemental payment for fire protection to the City of Trinity. The money was to offset the cost of gasoline used by Trinity and 10 other area fire departments to fight a pair of large grass fines on Oct. 28. • Received a request from Sheriff Ralph Montemayor to rent a vehicle for a one-year period. Commissioners tabled the request until additional information regarding insurance could be obtained. • Tabled a request from the Whispering Pines Golf Club for a variance on the county’s burn ban order. The 66-acre golf course located near Trinity has an established burn pile with about a 50-foot diameter area of cleared, debris-free space. The club is asking commissioners to allow them to burn braches, leaves and similar debris during outdoor burning bans. Jerry Curry, the club’s building maintenance director, said they would install a pair of two-inch fire nozzles with about 110 pounds of pressure on two sides of the burn pile to insure that the fire did not get out of hand. Commissioners asked Bell to research the matter to determine if such a variance can be granted and to report back next month. • Received a request from Frank Cowan to formally establish emergency procedures covering fires, floods, hurricanes and possible terrorist incidents. Cowan said he witnessed first hand the problems that arose on Oct. 28 when residents of Lake L Acres were evacuated during a large wild fire in their area. “This was a wake-up call for the county. It also is an opportunity for us to formulate a much needed emergency plan for both the incorporated and unincorporated areas. • Learned from Theresa Gallagher of Trinity that on April 2 there will be a Lake Livingston Trash Clean-up Day sponsored by the Trinity River Authority and the new Experience Lake Livingston organization in the four counties which surround the lake. While the event is still being planned, she said volunteers are being asked to remove trash and debris from the lake’s shoreline and place it in dumpsters being provided by the Pro Star garbage service. She asked commissioners to help her find sites in the Trinity County area for the dumpsters to be located. The • • •


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