Recent policy changes at Green Valley Justice Court are already having a significant positive financial impact.
Between FY2018 and FY2019, the court saw a 26 percent increase in the amount of fines received at the court and a 38 percent increase in fees recovered. Fines are penalties assessed in criminal and traffic cases while fees are assessed when people file small-claims cases, evictions and other sorts of civil cases.
Court Administrator Roxanne Skinner said the court took in $203,664 in fines and just under $93,000 in fees FY2019, which ended June 30.
Earlier this year, Skinner realized defendants in just over 1,500 criminal and criminal traffic cases owed the court nearly $1.2 million in fines and fees and none were making payments. Some of the cases were from the mid-80s, Skinner said. Instead of issuing warrants when somebody didn't pay, cases had simply been sent to collections, often with no results.
Justice of the Peace Ray Carroll and Skinner decided to change the way things were done.
First, they decided that if someone defaults on a case, they'll be ordered to appear in court to explain it. If they don't show up, a warrant will be issued immediately and the case will also go to collections. A failure to pay fines and fees can also result in license suspensions.
Skinner and her staff also began pulling old files and writing letters to defendants who owe the court money. The defendants are told how much they owe and that they must appear before the judge to either pay it or make payment arrangements. If they don't, an arrest warrant is issued.
"We’re monitoring them better," Skinner said. "Instead of just saying, 'Ok, you’re on a payment plan, make sure you make your payments and do your classes,' we’re setting them for status conferences to follow up to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to do. We’re keeping them on the court calendar.”
Carroll said it's about staying on top of people and how they're handling their paperwork and cases, whether it's making payments or taking classes.
"We're also trying to remind people of the importance of their freedom and their driver’s license, those are two important things," he said.
The letters have result in a lot of people coming in to make payment arrangements, Skinner said. The court has also increased the monthly minimum payment from $25 to $50.
While the court's new policies have helped increase the number of fees being paid, Skinner also attributes the increase to the number of wastewater lawsuits being filed by the Town of Sahuarita.
According to the town, roughly 25 percent of Sahuarita wastewater customers are delinquent on their payments. As of June 30, 2018, the last audited year, there was $746,760 in delinquent balances in wastewater bills.
As part of an effort to obtain payments from delinquent customers, the Town has been filing small claims lawsuits against them. Every time the town does so, they must also pay a fee to the court.
The town's 2020 budget includes $30,000 to determine a technical and legal process to terminate sewer service to non-paying customers because it has so many delinquent customers. The money will be devoted to researching the legalities of terminating service and actually terminating the service.