The number of unpaid fines just keeps getting bigger and bigger and as Supervisors look to figure out the county’s 2020-21 budget next month, that revenue stream becomes more and more attractive.
Coahoma County Supervisors were told Monday that since 1984, $3,048,442.97 in unpaid fines have been turned over to its collection company that specializes in the collection of delinquent Justice Court fines, personal property taxes, mobile home taxes and solid waste fees.
Justice Court Clerk Darlene Lake presented a report indicating the county has collected $439,517.87 over the past 36-years. Those records indicated the county has received 14,799.77 so far this year and collected $37,337.75 in 2019.
Supervisors repeatedly said with COVID-19 hitting the county gaming revenue from casinos, they are looking for new revenue streams as they hammer out next year’s budget.
Board of Supervisors President Johnny Newson said the board was looking for a consistent number to add to the General Fund to fix roads and provide services.
Lake said the fees, court costs, assessments, and the commission of the collection agency on fines imposed by Justice Court make it difficult to determine exactly how much the county gets from fines.
Dist. 2 Supervisor Pat Davis said the county gets roughly $30,000 a year from Justice Court fines.
At the start of the COVID-19 crisis in April, the county cut 16 agencies from its budget to save $30,208.17.
Legislation created last summer authorized counties to collect a debt owed to the county by intercepting a debtor’s state income tax return. Coahoma County Supervisors were told of the new law and program at their September meeting.
The City of Clarksdale voted in October to take part in the program under the auspices of the Mississippi Municipal League. Clarksdale had fines of more than $1.8 million owed the city.
In other business:
• Supervisors will sign their lease for Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center with Merit Health this week.
The county will continue to get $500,000 for the lease. Merit had asked for a reduction to $425,000.
While Coahoma County owns the property at the Clarksdale hospital, Merit Health manages Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center for CHS (Community Health Systems) and has announced plans to do major renovations at the hospital.
Changes planned are:
1.) Removing the glass solarium along the front of the hospital.
2.) Moving the Hicks Healthcare trailer off property behind the hospital.
3.) Giving the 3,000 square-foot nursing school back to the county.
4.) Giving 12.1 acres of land on Ohio Avenue back to the county.
5.) Tear down and remove the Flowers Wing.
The county has seen its revenue stream plummet due to the COVID-19 shutdown and said they want to see county finances stabilize and Merit begin work on hospital renovations before changing the lease price.
• Reid Dawe, General Manager of Rock Island Railroad (RIRR) met with the board about maintaining railroad right of way.
Dawe said their lease requires RIRR to maintain 20-feet on either side of the railroad and the county, public utilities and the city are required to maintain the remainder. Dawe said the RIRR has implemented a 3-year plan to spray up to 30 feet on each side. RIRR has also brought in a bush-axe to trim trees growing over the railroad.
Dawe said a meeting he had with county and city officials last week was productive and he hopes this will solve any perceived problems.
• The county discussed doing away with routine drug screens after having to terminate people who failed them. The county policy requires anyone involved in an incident that results in a hospital visit or an accident that destroys property to undergo a drug screen.
Newson said new laws allow people to smoke marijuana for medicinal purposes and a county employee visiting Colorado, which allows the smoking of marijuana, might return to work and test positive for drug use.
Board Attorney Tom Ross said he would have to check with the county’s insurance company to see if drug screens were required to reduce premiums.
• Supervisors unanimously voted for a raise Monday.
In 2019 the Mississippi Legislature passed legislation allows supervisors to increase their salary by $1,200. The salaries of Justice Court judges and the board attorney are tied to the salary of supervisors.
Coahoma County Supervisors did not take the raise in January when the law took effect. Lobbying by Justice Court judges pointed out not accepting the raise reduced their retirement.
The raise will take effect in September.