EARLY — The Early City Council unanimously agreed Tuesday evening to contract with a private law firm in an effort to recoup roughly $500,000 in unpaid court fines, fees and associated costs.

Police chief David Mercer told the council he had been “exploring options” in addressing the current warrant situation. “We have a large number of Class ‘C’ traffic warrants,” Mercer said. “Some of these warrants date back several years. The total of those fines comes to just under half a million dollars.”

Anita Chapman, client services coordinator with Round Rock law firm McCreary, Veselka, Bragg and Allen, said the firm charges 30 percent for their collection efforts. “That 30 percent is not charged to the city,” Chapman explained. “The city adds that percentage to the existing fines and fees.”

Chapman said the firm, using several search engines, finds people and sends letters and makes phone calls in an attempt to collect. “Usually, when they get a letter from an attorney, they get scared and call,” Chapman said. “We don’t harass them. We aren’t ugly with them. We try to work out a payment plan.”

If a fee is waived, there is no cost to the city, Chapman said. “Everything is done with the judge in mind. If the judge dismisses, there is no fee. We get them in and that clears the department’s books. If you don’t collect it, we don’t get paid.”

City administrator Tony Aaron told the council the city does not receive all of the funds collected. “That $500,000 does not come into our pockets,” Aaron said. “We have fees that must be sent to the state which is a large portion of that. We will have some fees come into our budget, but not that full amount.”

If fines and fees are not received within 60 days of the issuance of a warrant, the case will be turned over to the firm for collection efforts. MVBA currently also works with police departments in Abilene, San Angelo, Bangs, Clyde and Baird, among others.

Aaron also provided a report to the council regarding the new sanitation pick-up schedule. “The new schedule is working very well, as we expected,” Aaron said. “Most importantly, this is allowing us more room for growth as our waste increases and we are very happy with that.” Aaron said the current sanitation schedule will remain in effect. “We will be putting notifications on the city’s Web site and water bills.” Waste retrieval will be Tuesdays for residents on the north side of Early Blvd., while residents on the south side will have their trash picked up on Thursdays.

In other business, the council:

• Tabled discussion regarding the final plat approval of Bluebonnet Acres, a single-family residential development.

• Authorized Aaron to pursue a Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) grant from the Texas Department of Transportation for a sidewalk project that will connect existing apartments and residential areas to schools, employment, shopping, recreation and public transportation.

•Adopted an ordinance to cancel a general election scheduled for May 9. An election will not be necessary as incumbents were the only ones to file.

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Rick Phelps is news director at KOXE.