Counties use system to sting some debtors

County governments lose hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars each year because debtors skip out on paying fees such as parking tickets or emergency medical services charges. Nationally, the National Association of Counties estimates the loss at between $10 billion and $40 billion annually.

Although most counties are adept at collecting from state residents, many have trouble getting the one-time visitor or out-of-state traveler to pay up. To combat this problem and add some more change to the coffer, government officials in Arlington County, Va., West Palm Beach, Fla., Miami-Dade County, Fla., and Chattahoochee County, Ga., hired Lockheed Martin IMS to collect from out-of-state debtors. The company, which includes the state and local unit of Lockheed Martin Corp., was purchased by Affiliated Computer Services Inc. of Dallas in July.

'We have a lot of abilities to collect when someone is in state through garnishing their wages or not allowing them to renew their driver's license until they have paid, but we do not have the same abilities when the person is out of state,' said Mike Longhi, deputy treasurer for compliance for Arlington County. His county is trying to recover more than $5.9 million in outstanding fines. 'Lockheed has a national presence, and there is no overhead or setup cost, so we felt there was very little reason not to do it,' Longhi said.

Transferring Arlington's data to Lockheed was as simple as sending an e-mail, he said. The county's database of overdue fines resided on Revenue Plus Collectors Software from Columbia Ultimate Business Systems of Vancouver, Wash., and it was easily converted to Lockheed Martin's system. Lockheed Martin uses the Sting Recovery System and VIC III Predictive Dialing applications, from DAKCS Software Systems Inc. of Ogden, Utah.

Efraim Garced, city collections manager for West Palm Beach, assigned $169,000 worth of overdue fines to Lockheed, but his transition was not as smooth as Arlington's. Garced said the city switched to Oracle Production 2.0 from a 10-year-old MS-DOS system provided by Moore Government Business Systems.

'It took a couple of months to transition from one system to the other,' Garced said. 'Now that it is done, we are seeing results.'

Garced said Lockheed has recovered $48,000 since March.

Lockheed's system works in two ways: The Sting Recovery System searches external databases for names and Social Security numbers and updates the files provided by the county. Once the company locates the debtors, it sends dunning notices by postal mail. Debtors also receive telephone calls from Lockheed employees and the VIC III.

Sting runs on a Compaq ProLiant Server with three 600-MHz Pentium III Xeon processors, four 18G hard drives, 512M of RAM, plus RAID and external storage.

Lockheed Martin's fee is based on a contingency rate of 18 percent to 35 percent, added on to the original fine.

'Every dollar they collect for us comes at almost no cost to us,' Longhi said. 'These were fees we may not have been able to collect otherwise.'


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