Collecting costs for items like guardrails and stop signs that are damaged in accidents just got a little easier for the Ottawa County Engineer’s Office.
Ottawa County Commissioners recently agreed to let the engineer’s office join the new debt collection program offered by the office of Ohio Attorney General’s Office Mike DeWine.
“We have various bills and invoices for things generated by accidents. Say someone smoked a guardrail or stop sign during an accident,” Ottawa County Engineer Dave Brunkhorst explained. “We send bills to the affected perpetrator. Usually insurance handles it, sometimes not. And if they don’t pay, it followed the usual collection route.”
But often those bills still went unpaid.
Brunkhorst noted there are only a few of the collection situations a year involving his office. However, recovery costs from accidents mount easily.
“Guardrails can cost a couple of thousand dollars easily without sneezing,” he said.
The Ohio Attorney General’s office is offering a centralized collection service that will take on the responsibility for collecting those IOUs for small government entities. The office has collected for State of Ohio offices since the 1800s – anything from unpaid fines at state libraries to overdue corporate taxes. The new Local Government Collections Services Program now allows AG office personnel to collect amounts over $100 for political subdivisions. DeWine’s personnel, however, cannot go after utility bills, juveniles or people who are in jail.
Brunkhorst said the system is worth trying to alleviate the burden on Ottawa County. He met with commissioners as well as county prosecutor Mark Mulligan to discuss the service. The state attaches a 10 percent collection fee on the debtor bill for the service so county coffers aren’t strained.
“Rather than get the prosecutor involved, which means assigning staff and going through the paperwork, it’s another way to handle the collection,” the engineer said. “We’re kind of an experimental pigeon for the county.”
Charges and court costs could be tacked on to the collection amount sought if the person continues not to pay, Brunkhorst added.
According to the attorney general’s office, after the county commissioners sign a memorandum of understanding with the office, the attorney general personnel send debtors letters affixed with the attorney general’s office seal, informing them that the state now holds the debt. Follow-up phone calls occur over the next 150 days and then a second letter is sent.
The state can also confiscate income tax refunds and lottery winnings in the collection process.