Collection Agency Favored For Unpaid Municipal Fines

OCEAN CITY – An effort to retain a local collection agency for unpaid municipal fines will advance to the Mayor and Council with a favorable recommendation from a resort commission.

On Monday, the Ocean City Police Commission voted to forward a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and Council to retain Bay Area Receivables for the collection of municipal infraction fines.

City Solicitor Heather Stansbury said hiring the agency would allow the town to begin collecting more than $200,000 in unpaid fines.

“We’re going to give them all of your judgements, and in an effort to collect them they’ll take 35% of what they collect …,” she told the commission this week. “It really does come down to an economic decision.”

In May, Stansbury came before the commission seeking some direction on how to collect the town’s unpaid municipal fines. She noted the state’s attorney’s office had stopped prosecuting non-incarcerable municipal infractions in recent years, and as a result not much had been done to follow through on collections.

“The question is what do you want to do now to try and collect them?” she said at the time.

Following a considerable debate, the commission in May directed Stansbury and City Manager Doug Miller to develop a collections process.

Back on the table for discussion this week, Stansbury told commission members that they had corrected existing communication issues and developed two options for the commission’s consideration: to let the city solicitor’s office handle collections, or to outsource the process to a local agency.

“Once we hand it over, we are out of that, and I think there is benefit to that,” she said. “But of course, keeping anything in-house allows you to better control it, better chase after it and identify the larger ones.”

Stansbury said roughly $200,000 in unpaid judgements had accumulated since 2018. She noted the local collection agency estimated it would collect between 25% and 35%, and charge 35% of whatever is collected.

“Another option would be to give our office a chance to try and do it for a period of time and see what that measure of success is …,” she said. “By no means am I hawking for new business, we have enough. But I just don’t know which would be the better system.”

Councilman Peter Buas said he believed collections should go to an outside agency.

“It’s zero cost to the town,” he said, “and if we keep it in-house we’re going to pay to write letters out, write the garnishments … There’s also the cost to collect.”

When asked about the length of the contract with Bay Area Receivables, Stansbury said it could be negotiated.

“We can probably cancel within 30 days, and they will work with us,” she said. “I’m confident with this company, if this is the direction we go in.”

A motion to recommend retaining Bay Area Receivables for the town’s collection process passed unanimously after further discussion. The recommendation now advances to the Mayor and Council for consideration.

“At the end of the year, we’ll see how much we have collected and how much it has cost,” Stansbury said.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.