Angelina County works on recouping $8 million in outstanding debt

By Morgan Thomas - bio | email

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) – Law breakers face fines and fees for their crimes. For years, Angelina County has struggled collecting that money - especially when it's part of a payment plan.

"[The courts have] given them time to pay it out and they'd give make one or two payments and quit paying," said Angelina County Judge Wes Suiter.

There has been little follow-up on non-payments because collecting it was solely up to the court clerks. Judge Suiter is sympathetic, "On top of setting hearings, setting trial dates and having people come in to pay fines and fees - they were trying to keep up with the ones who weren't paying."

A few years ago, the State Comptroller's Office stepped in to fix the problems.

"We think it's really important to help the cities, the counties that are collecting these fees and taxes have an ability to do that because it helps their coffers," said Susan Combs, State Comptroller of Public Accounts.

After the changes took effect, the county hoped to recoup some of the $8 million owed. However, past debt has been set aside, while the focus remains on current cases.

A newly-created county collections department relieves stress on the nine courts that make up Angelina County government.

"Monitoring that and following up and making sure payments are being paid according to the time payment process they've agreed to," said Eddie Gray, County Auditor.

It's a start, but a state report shows there's more improvement needed.

"The biggest inconsistency we have is, I guess, inconsistency in some of those areas that were not uniform," said Gray.

The county has until early 2011, to address shortcomings. If the county doesn't pass a state audit, the consequences are costly.

"My rough estimate is 16 thousand a quarter or 64 thousand a year," said Gray.

In this economy, the county says, they can't afford to lose a dime.

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