Linn County Sheriff Don Zeller is taking a new approach to dealing with lean budget times. Zeller’s going after overdue fines, tickets and other money owed to government agencies in the county. Zeller says the county attorney can go after any overdue bill the state can’t collect that’s six months old. He says the county attorney was doing the job for several years, but then it became too much of a problem. The Sheriff decided to take it over in his office July 1st so things wouldn’t get behind. He has about 500 accounts and payment plans set up for people to pay. Zeller says he’s been successful in getting the money back. So far, they’ve collected over $110,000 in past due court fines. Zeller says he has a variety of tools available for collecting the delinquent fines that other agencies don’t have. He says they can garnish their wages, tie up their income tax checks or hold up their motor vehicle registration — things only the sheriff is allowed to do under law. Zeller says denying gun permits to people who have overdue fines has also proved to be a quick way to get them to pay up. Zeller says he’s assigned one person in his office to write a detailed letter to the offender to let them know what they owe. He says that seems to work better than a form letter from the court system. He says not too many people want the sheriff tracking them down. And he says, “most people that’re halfway decent, but have just gotten into a little bit of trouble and owe these do not want to go back to jail. That’s probably the biggest deterrent there is.” Zeller says collecting the overdue fines is a problem statewide. He says there’s about $60-million owed the court system in the State of Iowa. Zeller says we could have more judges and clerk of courts offices open if we collected some of this fine money. Zeller admits it takes a little more work at a time when most sheriff’s departments are already stretched thin — but he feels it’s worth the investment in time. He says this money has to be collected so there’s some type of deterrent. He says if someone is sentenced to do 10 years in the prison system and does only 18 months, then there’s no deterrent to the crime. He says it’s important to collect the money so the counties don’t have to raise taxes. Zeller says he’s talking with some other counties about his collection system, and how they can use it, too.
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