Municipal Collections of America will recover outstanding parking ticket fines and unpaid civil penalties for red-light violations in Tuscaloosa, Ala. under a contract city council members approved this week.

A total of 657 red-light violators captured by a camera system installed last year have gone at least three months without paying their citation. That amounts to $82,148 in unpaid fines, according to a spokesman with the Tuscaloosa Police Department. The collection period runs from Sept. 1, 2013 to late April 2014, when the last 90-day violation was counted.

The Alabama law that granted the city the authority to use the camera system for red-light enforcement also made the penalties a civil matter, not a criminal one.

Municipal Collections of America, based in Lansing, Ill., contracts with 75 municipalities and local governments across the U.S., according to the company. It had previous dealings with Gatso USA Inc., which Tuscaloosa contracted with in January 2012 to install and operate the red-light camera system.

For the unpaid parking tickets, city officials identified 37 violators owing more than $500 — including $6,240 owed by one person. Another 28 people owe between $300 and $500. Combined, the total is $62,410 in outstanding parking ticket fines, said Tuscaloosa City Attorney Glenda Webb.

As of Tuesday, as news spread of the plan to hire a collection agency, seven violators paid their debts in full for a total of $4,795 and 18 more had set up a payment plan. Still, others have not responded to recent attempts by the city to contact them.

Municipal Collections of America was chosen because it met the city’s seven criteria in a request for proposals - including stipulations such as a willingness to charge the city no fees unless past due bills were paid. 

??Tuscaloosa previously had a contract with Birmingham, Ala.-based collection agency AmSher, hired to help collect approximately $1.27 million in billings for the Water and Sewer Department and mitigate an estimated $400,000 in bad debt written off each year for unpaid water and sewer bills. After six months, Tuscaloosa officials said, AmSher had collected approximately $12,000, or 1% of the outstanding debt and short of the 27% success rate it had with the city of Birmingham.

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