Coahoma County supervisors have decided not to seek an opportunity to garnish tax refunds of those who owe the county money.
Supervisors decided last week not to enter the state’s Debt Setoff Program that would collect unpaid fines, back-taxes and bills owed the county by intercepting a debtor’s state income tax return.
Board President Paul Pearson made the motion to enter the Debt Setoff Program but it died from lack of a second. Johnny Newsom then made the motion for the county not to pursue the issue further and it was seconded by Darrell Washington and supported by Pat Davis. Will Young was absent.
“I just feel it is reverse Robin Hood,” said Newson prior to the vote. “You’re taking from the poor and giving to the rich.”
Pearson said the fines were the result of a conviction and part of fair taxes is making people pay what they owe.
“I guess if you want to raise taxes next year, that is an option,” said Pearson. “I think it is a revenue stream we should pursue. Making everybody pay what they owe seems to be fair to me.”
The county is owed more than half a million in unpaid taxes. It is estimated the county is owed more than $2 million in unpaid fines from Justice Court and Circuit Court.
Supervisors implemented a 3-percent across-the-board cut in all departments this fall.
House Bill 991 authorizes 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 has voted in October to take part in the program under the auspices of the Mississippi Municipal league. Clarksdale has fines of more than $1.8 million owed the city.
Supervisors did say last week they wanted to see how it was implemented in other counties and how successful it was there. They agreed the county – tax collector, justice court judges and constables and circuit court judges – need to be more diligent in making sure people pay their fines and pay their taxes.
The program would work like this:
The county would contact the Mississippi Department of Revenue and submit the debt owed for collection. The county, through the Debt Setoff Program Coordinator, would send written notice of the intent to the debtor to garnish part or all of their refund. The debtor is told a 25 percent collection assistance fee will be assessed if they don’t pay immediately.
The debtor would have 30 days to contest the garnishment and receive a hearing in front a justice court judge with appeals made to the county circuit court.
Other counties and cities that have taken part in this program have found the threat of garnishing a tax refund often prompts people who owe fines to go ahead and pay the court.
The county could also use this process to collect unpaid garbage fees.
HB 991 doesn’t directly mention a debt owed a county-owned rural hospital, like Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center in Clarksdale, but the law doesn’t exclude debts paid to them either.
Already, the DOR can garnish state income tax refunds to recover:
• Unpaid child support.
• Federal taxes or fees owed.
• Unpaid student loans (state government loans only).
• Community college unpaid fees or other debts.
Mississippi is one of six states that does not suspend, revoke, or not allow driver's license renewal for failure to pay fines and fees.
The state does allow Justice Court Judges and Circuit Court Judges to issue bench warrants for failure to pay fines assessed by those courts. Once the bench warrant is issued, and a driver is once again pulled over for a traffic infraction, they can be arrested for failure to pay a fine and carried to jail to await a hearing in front of the judge who issued the bench warrant.