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Monroe County goes after decades-old traffic tickets

– A Monroe County effort to collect unpaid traffic tickets dating back a decade or more is catching some violators by surprise.

County commissioners signed a contract with a collections agency this year after the city of Bloomington stopped using the county clerk’s office as its collection agent for parking fines, the Herald-Times reported. That reduced the county office’s revenue because it no longer received money for processing citations and collecting fines owed to the city.

Between February and the end of June, Indianapolis debt-collection agency Eagle Accounts Group turned over $140,000 to the county.

“I suppose if I was really nice, I would let it go,” County Clerk Linda Robbins said. “We are losing funding for resources and our records retention. It was a decision where we had to do something.”

The clerk’s office keeps 40 percent of the money from Eagle Accounts. The rest goes to the county’s general fund. Robbins said it’s enough to pay someone’s salary or help digitize court records.

But the process has frustrated those who’ve received notices of long-ago infractions. In some cases, they say they’d never heard about the fines until now. In other cases, the citations had already been paid or the cases had been dismissed but weren’t recorded in the clerk’s computer system.

That’s what happened to Lew Winkler, who received a collection letter in February.

Winkler was returning home from work in 2004 when he was pulled over for a broken headlight. An officer gave him a citation but told him it would be dismissed if he fixed the light and brought the car to the police station to be checked.

Winkler said he did that and considered the matter closed until he received the letter this year.

“That’s just an example of extreme not paying attention to things,” he said. “Someone should have known that was taken care of.

“Just a bureaucratic mess – that’s all it amounts to.”

Robbins said that in cases like Winkler’s, where there’s proof the charge was dismissed, the claim goes away.

Zach Weiner wasn’t as lucky.

Weiner, who attended Indiana University from 1998 to 2002 and now lives in Chicago, received a letter in April stating he had an outstanding balance on a seat belt violation ticket he received in August 2002.

Weiner said he doesn’t remember getting one seat belt violation, nor does he remember the second violation the office found from September 2003.

He paid both tickets, about $120 in total.