It is an unfortunate reality of modern government that Clinton County must rely on the help of a state agency to collect room and board fees owed by jail inmates, but at least the state is willing to use its muscle to help lift a burden shouldered unfairly by all county residents.

In case you missed it, Clinton County Sheriff Rick Lincoln and Lt. Craig Eberhart addressed the County Board of Supervisors Monday and asked it to authorize initiating an Iowa Department of Administrative Services 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.

The DAS program may be used on former inmates with whom the sheriff’s office has made a good faith attempt to collect the debt. Through the Income Offset Program, the sheriff’s office will be able to submit to the DAS 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.

This is fantastic news for anyone who does not account for some of the $338,000 owed to the county. When times are tough — and they have been, recently — a six-figure debt is a hard thing to ignore. By comparison, Dubuque County was out some $1.3 million in fees when it got involved with the pilot program last year. The county sheriff there says it not only helps bring some of that money back, but also serves as a motivating factor to would-be scofflaws.

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.

This is a great move for Clinton County, and we’re not at all surprised the county board agreed to get involved. That group knows how important a few extra dollars can be and wisely grabbed an opportunity to make a difference. We applaud the decision and hope it will pay dividends in the very near future.

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