CLINTON — On Monday, the Clinton County Board of Supervisors authorized a memorandum of understanding with the Iowa Department of Administrative Services to participate in a new program to collect unpaid fees for the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Rick Lincoln and Lt. Craig Eberhart addressed the board and asked it to authorize initiating the program in Clinton County to help collect $338,706.33 in unpaid room and board fees, the calculated total owed as of June 30. Clinton County assesses a $10 per day fee for inmates who have been convicted of a criminal offense and, according to Lincoln, has been able to collect around 30 percent of the fees owed.

After Lincoln investigated the program with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office and Program Director Larry Plotz, he decided to contact the DAS and pursue participation.

Before an individual is placed in the program, the sheriff’s office must make a good faith attempt to collect the debt. If resolution does not occur, the debt can be included.

Through the Income Offset Program, the sheriff’s office will be able to submit a debtor file, which includes the name and other vital information of former inmates who are indebted by more than $50 to Clinton County.

Then, the DAS will attempt to match the debtors with income tax refunds, vendor payments or lottery winnings. If a match occurs, the debtor will be notified that their refund or winnings may be held and used to pay their debt to the county. A $7 fee will be included on each offset when money is kept.

“That’s a little incentive for the folks to come in and pay their bill ahead of time,” said Lincoln.

Lincoln said the program will help the county recover some of the thousands of dollars in unpaid fees and possibly save some taxpayer dollars in the long run.

“I think we owe it to the taxpayers to go after that money,” he added.

Lincoln and Eberhart said they are investigating whether other fees, such as Work Release fees, can be included. As of Sept. 13, 2005, the Clinton County Jail is owed $12,858 from unpaid Work Release fees.

Dubuque County began the program last year. Dubuque County Sheriff Kenneth Runde said the program has been a big help in collecting unpaid fees.

“It has been pretty good for us,” Runde said. “Every year this helps us to get some of these fees collected, it puts a small dent in the debt owed us.”

Runde said Dubuque County has approximately $1.3 million in unpaid room and board fees and collected $26,417 through the program. He added that the program has a ripple effect and the collected amount does not include funds received from people who received notices in advance and paid their debt or made payment arrangements. Runde said the county revenue from room and board fees in fiscal year 2004 was nearly $35,000 and jumped to almost $70,000 for 2005.

“It’s a good program because people are paying their debts and any penny we can bring in is saving the taxpayers money,” said Runde.

The Income Offset Program began last year as a pilot program in six Iowa counties. During fiscal year 2005, the program brought in $17.4 million for approximately 50 different agencies and bureaus of state government. Lincoln contacted DAS and was selected to be one of five Iowa counties to be allowed to participate this year. The Income Offset Program will go into effect Jan. 1. The program is ongoing and the county can opt out at any time without any cost.

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