05/27/08 — Duplin wants to attach wages to collect residents' debt

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Duplin wants to attach wages to collect residents' debt

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 27, 2008 2:16 PM

KENANSVILLE -- People who use Duplin County government services and then fail to pay for them could find themselves facing wage garnishment.

A bill has been introduced in the N.C. Senate that would give the county power to help it recoup possibly tens of thousands of dollars in uncollected fees owed annually for county services.

The amount owed might not seem all that significant when compared to the county's multi-million-dollar budget, but throw in spiraling costs, shrinking revenues, a growing demand for services and a county board mindful of the public's animosity toward any increase in the property tax, and those tens of thousands of dollars gain importance.

State Sen. Charlie Albertson of Duplin County filed the bill May 22.

Currently, the county does have the power to garnish wages to collect for delinquent property taxes, ambulance service fees and water bills.

Duplin County Manager Mike Aldridge has said if the county has the ability to charge for a service, then it should be able to collect those fees as well.

Albertson filed the bill in response to a plea from Duplin County commissioners who are in the midst of budget preparations.

The bill would allow the county to treat the amount due for any fee or debt the county has authority to levy or collect as if it were a tax due to the county. It would also allow the county to collect the amount by the use of attachment and garnishment proceedings.

If approved, the law would pertain to debts accruing on or after the date it is enacted. It would not be retroactive.

The issue of unpaid fees, particularly the ones owed to the county health department, was on a wish list commissioners sent to the county's legislative delegation earlier this month.

The wish list included requests for continued funding of the Duplin County Events Center; allowing the county to join the state's health plan; and revising the cable TV franchise system commissioners said has "taken the county out of the loop" and has affected revenues as well.