EDINBURG – After a 60-day trial period, Hidalgo County officials are pleased with the results of a pilot project aimed to collect on outstanding fines and fees owed to Justice of the Peace courts.
The project, "Operation: Clean Slate," was an unprecedented effort undertaken by Hidalgo County to attempt to collect on what had originally been estimated at approximately $45 million owed to the County. That amount was reduced with the deletion of cases that were later deemed uncollectable, or could not be included for privacy reasons, such as juvenile cases.
"Operation: Clean Slate" commenced in mid-September, and provided an online, searchable database where residents could determine whether their names were "on the list." The list encompassed unresolved cases over a 10-year period, and included offenses such as moving violations for speeding, driving without a license or proof of insurance, as well as failures to appear and other offenses.
As of November 15, 2011, "Operation: Clean Slate" had collected a total of $281,148.48 and resolved a total of 1,691 cases. The average amount paid per case was approximately $170. Three days after the campaign's end, the total amount collected had skyrocketed to $304,337.53, showing the public's continued interest to resolve their debt before further consequences ensued.
"These monies have been owed to Hidalgo County for many years, and we are pleased with the response from the community," said County Judge Ramon Garcia. "The convenience of paying online has proven to be a successful technique to allow residents to take care of their judicial obligations and pay their debt," Garcia continued.
"This project has been a tremendous success, and we will continue with these efforts to collect on what is owed to Hidalgo County," Garcia added.
"Operation: Clean Slate" was spearheaded through a collaborative effort between representatives from the County Judge's office, Pct. 4 Commissioner's office, Justice of the Peace offices, County Executive Office, County Budget Office, and the Information Technology Department. The initiative kicked off with a massive outreach effort, utilizing public service announcements, television and radio advertisements, and social media to share the message with Hidalgo County residents. The message urged those who were on the list to "clean their slate, before it's too late!"
The project commenced with a list that was to be representative of a snapshot of what was owed to Hidalgo County, and was limited to the time period of January 2001 through April 2011. As a result of the outpouring of interest from the public, it became evident during the pilot period that the County could enhance its efforts and expand upon the original list to include all monies that were owed to Hidalgo County Justice of the Peace courts.
Due to the success of "Operation: Clean Slate" and as a result of lessons learned in this initial pilot project, the County will continue to refine, expand and enhance its Justice of the Peace collections program.
"Clean Slate has demonstrated that the County is in an excellent position to increase its revenues through this previously-untapped funding stream," remarked Pct. 4 Commissioner Joseph Palacios. "The County will continue to ramp up its efforts to ensure a strategic collection mechanism is in place for the future," Palacios added.
At its meeting held earlier today, Hidalgo County Commissioners' Court approved Phase II of the initiative, which kicks off the development of implementing successful enforcement tools that will have a significant impact to increase collections, such as Scofflaw, Omnibase, and similar models that have been implemented in other counties. In this phase, the committee will develop the policies and procedures for successful execution of the enforcement tools, and will also continue expanding its efforts to give residents the convenient opportunity to settle their debts online.
The online payment portal will remain available to the public as the initiative moves forward, and residents are encouraged to continue clear their records before subsequent consequences may affect them. The County will continue to keep the public informed on the progress of this initiative.
Visit www.co.hidalgo.tx.us for more information.