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City Takes Aims at $7 Million in Delinquent Court Fines



PATERSON, NJ – In its search for revenue, Paterson city government is about to try a new tactic. Officials are planning to hire a collection agency to go after tens of thousands of municipal court deadbeats.

At present, Paterson’s court has about $7 million in delinquent fines on the books, according to City Business Administrator Charles Thomas. That would be more than enough money to close the city’s 2012 budget deficit.

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But officials don’t expect to recoup all $7 million. Some of the delinquencies go back almost two decades, said Manuel Quiles, the municipal court director.

“We want them starting with the present and then working their way backwards,’’ said Quiles. “We don’t want them wasting a lot of time trying to find people from 1992.’’

The $7 million covers overdue parking tickets, moving violations, criminal fines and all other overdue money owed to the court, officials said. During a normal year, Paterson’s court takes in about $6 million, Quiles said.

The City Council on February 14 approved a resolution allowing the municipal purchasing agent to seek proposals from various collection agencies.

For many years, the only recourse local courts had against deadbeats was suspending their driver’s licenses or stopping them from renewing their vehicle registrations, Quiles said. But in January 2011, a new law went into effect that allowed local courts to hire collection agencies, he said. That option is so new there’s little track record on how successful other cities have been using collection agencies, according to Quiles.

But Paterson doesn’t have anything to lose.  The collection agency would be paid through an added surcharge imposed on the deadbeats it tracks down, and not take a cut of what’s owed to the city, Quiles said. He acknowledged that many of the deadbeats will be almost impossible to find.

“People move around so frequently, especially here in Paterson,’’ Quiles said.

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