Marietta looks to hire company for collection of red-light fines

Miss paying your fine for running a red light in Marietta, and you could be getting a call from a debt collection agency.

On Wednesday, the Marietta City Council is expected to approve a contract allowing an outside company to collect the outstanding fines that total at least $438,760 for the past two fiscal years.

The contract will allow Cincinnati-based Unifund Government Services to collect from  drivers caught violating traffic laws by the city’s three red-light cameras. The contract would formalize work currently being done by Unifund, which has been collecting the fines as part of an 18-month trial run with the city.

“We don’t have the staff to track down someone who may have moved,” said Shannon Barrett, assistant to the city manager. “This company considers themselves to be a forensics collection agency. They have the manpower to find people.”

Under terms of the contract, Unifund is paid only from collections and does not get paid until the city gets paid. For fines less than two years old the company will receive 16.5 percent of collections, and they will get 19 percent from debts more than two years old.

Marietta charges $70 for red light violations; an additional $25 late fee is added for every 30 days the fine is not paid. Late fees are capped at $100.

For the last seven months of fiscal 2009 the city recorded 2,166 unpaid violations. For fiscal 2010, which ended June 30, 4,102 citations remained unpaid. Without figuring the various late fees for each citation, the outstanding fiscal 2009 fines equal $151,620. The fiscal 2010 fines would be $287,140.

“This is something that has been ongoing to collect what the city is owed,” said Marietta City Councilman Philip Goldstein, chairman of the council’s Judicial/Legislative Committee.

Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Goldstein expects the council to approve the contract.

The one-year contract begins once it is approved by the council and signed by the mayor. The contract also includes four one-year renewal options for the collection services.

In April, DeKalb County offered an amnesty program for drivers owing fines for outstanding traffic tickets. The county had accumulated a backlog of 500,000 traffic tickets. The amnesty program yielded the county about $1 million during April, Chief Judge Nelly Withers said at the time. New rules went into effect in May that would put drivers’ licenses at risk of being suspended for unpaid fines.