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County hires bill collector

Pierce County will hire a collection agency to go after thousands of dollars in delinquent debt.

Professional Placement Services, an agency specializing in government debt collection, will work with debt owed to the clerk of courts office and the human services, public health and sheriff's departments.

The collection fee will be 19 percent. PPS President Craig Johnson said his company would charge a rate of 22 percent if it worked with only court debts, but offered the lower rate to work with all county departments.

"I think it's a good thing to try, and I think it's time to do something," said Clerk of Court Peg Feuerhelm.

PPS's current clients include 27 Wisconsin county clerks of court, four county human services departments and 11 sheriff's departments.

Johnson said PPS has recovered 36 percent of the bad debt placed by Chippewa, Buffalo and Sheboygan counties. He predicted a recovery rate of at least 34 percent for Pierce County.

Feuerhelm said she hasn't signed the contract with PPS yet and isn't sure how much of her office's outstanding debt will be turned over to the company.

The clerk of courts office has over $1 million in "outstanding receivables." But Feuerhelm said not all that money belongs to the county because some of it is court-ordered restitution and fines owed to the state.

She said some of the $1 million is due from people who are on payment plans and are still making payments.

Feuerhelm said the accounts turned over to PPS will likely be the older debts and fines owed by out-of-state residents.

She said her office will continue to use Wisconsin's income tax refund intercept program to collect past-due debts.

Also, she said, a recent law change allows counties to apply for tax intercept if they have the driver's license number of the debtor. Previously, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue would attempt tax intercept only if the county provided the debtor's Social Security number, and police officers don't collect that information when they write citations.

Feuerhelm said she will try to go through 10 years of delinquent fines to find those that can now be turned over to the Department of Revenue in time to intercept 2007 tax refunds.