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Duluth mulls debt collectors for red-light fines

DULUTH - It won't be so easy to avoid paying those red-light camera fines charged by the city of Duluth now that the city is looking to hire a collection agency to follow up on no-shows for court dates.

The City Council voted Monday to look into hiring a debt collection agency to track down individuals and collect the money due to the city.

Maximus, a collection agency dedicated solely to government agencies, was on hand to outline its services, but the council decided to postpone any decision until other bids could be solicited and further investigation conducted with regard to individual protections.

"We need to ensure privacy issues are safeguarded - to find out where the information goes," Mayor Pro Tem Doug Mundrick said.

Duluth, the first local municipality to institute the red-light camera program, also had to amend its code Monday to eliminate any penalties, fees or interest for late payment of these

citations.

Chief Municipal Court Judge Charles Barrett said that since these fines were civil in nature, not criminal, state legislation didn't allow for any penalties on the fines.

"We can only collect the $70 allowed and some mandated fees, which bring it up to $94.75," Barrett said. "It also cannot affect driving points or insurance rates - anything adverse."

Barrett said he didn't believe there were too many people who had opted not to pay the fines, and he believed that the program was serving its purpose.

"It is still (the) early days, and we have only had two court calendars on the red-light citations so far," Barrett said. "But it certainly looks like it is going to be successful. The idea behind the policy was to make the intersections safer."

Since the city would have to carry the cost of recovering any money due on the citations as state law prohibits municipalities from charging for the costs, the city attorney recommended the use of a collection agency.