City defers action on fine collection firm

Deborah Siviri makes a point to West Point Selectmen during a study session Monday night
Staff Writer

A Texas-based company wants to renew its relationship helping West Point collect thousands of dollars in unpaid city court fines.
But Selectmen balk at making a move after Municipal Court Clerk Monica Lairy raises concerns about whether the company really can help.

Deborah Sivira, of American Municipal Services, which has offices in Jackson, Miss. and handles collections for several courts in the state, told Selectmen during a study session Monday night her company specializes in tracking down people who owe fines.
The service doesn't cost the city any money because the company tacks on a 25 percent fee to what the offender owes.

But Lairy told board members "keeping everything in house works better" and that changes in state law concerning fines, collections and indigent offenders make the service conflict with what her office and city court do everyday.

"They are doing what we are, we are doing the same thing," Lairy said, noting people who come through the court system often change addresses and phone numbers monthly.

"We call them monthly, we stay on them and we 'skip-trace' all the time," said Sivira, referring to a technique used to track people.

City court frequently issues bench warrants for people who don't pay their fines or fall behind on payment plans.

Officers arrest and jail the people when they find them.
The judge has a lengthy process to go through to determine whether they meet the criteria for indigency and avoid fines completely.

In addition, they can earn $100 a day credit sitting in jail or on the county work crew. T

hat pays off a fine "pretty quickly," Lairy said.
The amount used to be $25 a day.

"With the new laws, people almost don't have to pay," Police Chief Avery Cook said.
While Selectmen opted to study the issue further, some are least willing to listen.

"It's a free service, maybe we should give it an opportunity and let them worry about the heavy lifting on their end," Selectman Ken Poole said.

Sivira, who is an Ackerman native, noted the company did collections for the city at one time but that ended almost a year ago.

The idea of returning to the city came up when some Selectmen recently met her at the Mississippi Municipal League conference. She said the company has helped other cities, including collecting $117,000 for Louisville last year $40,000 for Byram and $46,000 for Cleveland.