'Blitz' targets overdue court $$ in Northumberland County
SUNBURY - More than $22.8 million in court costs dating to 1965 is owed to Northumberland County, and an effort is underway to collect it.
Officials don't expect to get nearly all of it, but personnel in the prothonotary, adult probation and sheriff offices say they are determined to recover as much as possible.
A group of eight adult probation officers and deputy sheriffs collected approximately $3,500 of it by canvassing different parts of Northumberland County Wednesday and Thursday. In addition to collecting the money and lifting approximately 15 warrants, authorities were able to persuade other delinquents to start making payments on an additional $2,000 owed.
"We realize we probably won't get near the $22.8 million mark, but even if we receive 5 percent of that total it will translate into approximately $1 million," Prothonotary Justin Dunkelberger, who is spearheading the collection process with the blessings of Commissioners Vinny Clausi, Stephen Bridy and Richard Shoch, said Thursday. "And that's a good start."
Dunkelberger said probation officers and deputy sheriffs collected $2,000 Wednesday in Coal Township, Kulpmont, Mount Carmel and Mount Carmel Township. On Thursday, the same group retrieved approximately $1,500 in the Sunbury and Milton areas.
Sheriff Robert Wolfe said Jesse Feudale, 40, of Kulpmont, who owes court costs and approximately $38,000 in child support payments, was incarcerated Wednesday for refusing to pay the money.
14,123 open cases
Dunkelberger said there are 14,123 open cases from the past 50 years involving delinquent court costs. The largest single amount of money owed by one defendant is $194,000.
The county has developed a spreadsheet that's hundreds of pages long listing who owes and how much.
There is also a breakdown by year. For 1965, $830.60 is
owed in six cases, while nothing is owed from 1966. Most of the larger amounts are from the 1990s and 2000s, including 2010, where the total tops $2.1 million and involves 849 cases.
Dunkelberger, who noted the costs include Act 35 (supervision) fees, fines and restitution, said more countywide "blitzes" will be conducted as manpower allows. He said Wednesday and Thursday were chosen because deputy sheriffs were available because the three county judges were attending a conference in Hershey.
"We plan on meeting next week to evaluate where we are at with this challenging project," Dunkelberger said. Dunkelberger said Thursday he's hopeful the money collected from delinquents can be used to hire more personnel in his office and other row offices, including moving the cost collection clerk back to the prothonotary's office.
No statute of limitations
In October 2011, county commissioners and court officials held a press conference to address escalating amount of owed court costs.
Officials were hopeful the money could be recouped through a new county collection office and a government collection service that would operate at no additional cost to the county.
Since there is no statute of limitations involved in collecting the money, it can be recouped as long as the delinquents are alive and can be located.
On Aug. 15, 2011, the county, citing an effort to optimize efficiency and maintain sound financial controls over the collection of fines and restitution paid for criminal offenses, transferred the criminal cost office from the clerk of courts office at the courthouse to the adult probation department.
The transfer of the criminal cost office was expected to increase revenue through more efficient and prompt cost collections, while expediting the collection of delinquent costs.
The move involved cost collection clerk Sarah Snyder being transferred to the adult probation department to supervise the collection office at an approximate salary of $26,000, and the hiring of Angie Houser as a secretary in the adult probation department at an approximate salary of $22,000.