BELOIT - Just because the municipal judge orders an individual to pay a penalty doesn't mean the city will see the cash.
And Beloit is owed $1.9 million to prove the point.
From 2002 to last year the court has collected $15.21 million in payments related to citations from traffic offenses to misdemeanor criminal offenses. Over the same time frame, the city is still seeking over $1.9 million in unpaid forfeitures from 8,179 citations, making the court's total outstanding debt around 12 percent in relation to its annual citation income.
The number is in line with anticipated projections, according to City Attorney Elizabeth Krueger.
The court has a wide range of options to collect debts, from suspending a driver's license to working through a state-funded program to secure payments. The city's last resort for collection includes wage assignment or garnishment and seeking arrest warrant commitments.
Through the extensive hearings process, residents can arrange payment plans based on good-faith agreements with the court, dependent on the court determining an individual's ability to pay.
"I think that's a fair number," Krueger said on the court's overall debt. "The city has done a decent job in finding that balance between holding people accountable and working with people. If you're making an effort and you come to court and ask for help, the court will work with you on payments. If we don't hear from you...they're more likely to pursue other collection options than a standard repayment plan because you are not coming to court."
Krueger said there's a fine line between helping residents and accountability.
"We don't want people re-offending while they are on the payment plan because then we are just subsidizing criminal behavior," she added.
The most common types of citations residents and others receive from municipal court include lawn citations, unregistered vehicles on property and trash and debris tickets. Common police department citations range from disorderly conduct and simple battery to OWI first offenses.
To offset collection costs and secure payments, the city is enrolled in the Tax Refund Intercept Program, overseen by the state department of revenue, to gain payment from an offender's tax return. The city is also a part of the state Debt Collection Initiative to partner with the department of revenue to seek payments.
Beloit's municipal court was established in July of 1993 and there are no plans to modify operations. Some municipalities, including the Town of Beloit and Janesville, shuttered municipal court operations, handing them over to Rock County Circuit Court. Recently, Town of Beloit officials broached the issue of reestablishing a court, with no timeline for the court to be reinstated.
"There's a cost to sending witnesses and attorneys up to Janesville," Krueger said. "It's much easier and more cost effective to handle things here. We're designed to deal with these quality of life type of offenses. It's more of the minor offenses circuit court should not be bothered with."
Information on common questions asked by individuals with a court appearance can be found at bit.ly/2qzwEgw.