By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver
(Denver, Colo.) Although Denver approved a contract with a collections agency to recover unpaid court fines and restitution on Monday, some people may be off the hook for repaying debts under $300.
At their April 4 meeting, some City Council members said it might be appropriate to lower or forgive some fines. Currently, the city only collects on court fines and restitution of more than $300.
The court wants to expand collections activity to include amounts under $300, but several council members oppose the idea. The county stopped collecting fines under $300 in 2020 to save on collections costs.
The City Council voted Monday to replace the contract discussed on April 4 with a new one that allows Integral to collect fines and fees over $300 for two more years.
Collections see 149,000 cases in five years
During the past five years, the city referred 149,000 cases to collections. Integral Recoveries collects about $13 million annually in the traffic division alone, said Kristin Wood of Denver County Courts. She said she would need to run some numbers to determine how much they collect on the criminal side.
In addition to using Integral Recoveries, the city employs three collections officers for the court system.
The Reimagining Policing Task Force recommended limiting contact between the court system and marginalized communities, City Councilmember Candi CdeBaca said.
Courts to work with Office of Financial Empowerment
Council President Pro Tem Jamie Torres said the Courts department needs to work with the Office of Financial Empowerment to determine whether its fees are appropriate. She would like to see a study on the topic. In the meantime, she believes collection activities should stop.
According to Wood, nobody goes to jail for not paying fines, fees, or restitution. A judge can dismiss fines if someone is indigent.
Accounts delinquent for more than 90 days and more than $300 go to collections. Wood said that collection activity for court fines or restitution does not show up on a credit report. She added that people are no longer denied driver's license renewal due to unpaid court fines.
Councilmember Paul Kashmann criticized Wilson for not bringing the contract, which expired in February, to the City Council sooner.
Collections process streamlined
It won't cost Denver any money upfront to extend the contract. The court built efficiencies into the collection system during the COVID-19 shutdown. "In 2020, because of COVID-19 related budget reductions, the Court worked extensively with Integral Recoveries, Inc. to re-engineer the court's collection process," Wood explained in a memo to City Council. "To achieve this new process, the Court and Integral Recoveries dedicated numerous hours of information technology resources throughout 2020 and 2021."
Integral will collect from the debtor both the amount owed to the court and the collection fee of 20 percent. The amount owed will go into the general fund; Integral will keep the collection fee.
Previously the city had to provide the collection agency with an upfront fee. Integral has provided recovery services or the Court since 2009.