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OTTAWA — Once upon a time, you could pay off a fine in La Salle County in $25 installments — and you could take years paying it off. Not anymore.
This past Monday, court officials threw down the gauntlet and put all stragglers on notice that from now on payment had better be made in full. The old system of offering time-to-pay dates — allowing defendants to knock out fines in tiny installments — is over and done with.
“We were setting $100 fines and it was costing the county hundreds to collect,” explained circuit clerk Andy Skoog. “I think it’s going to be a money-saving system.”
Here’s how it works:
Anyone fined before the administrative order signed July 21 now has until Jan. 2 to make payment in full, either in person or through the circuit clerk website using ePay.
If they’re not paid in full, the fine will be sent to a collections agent or the defendant will be directed to the Secretary of State, which can suspend their driver’s license for non-compliance.
And for anyone fined after July 21?
“That’s up to the judge,” Skoog allowed. “Most judges will give them a 90-day notice, and within 90 days, they’ll have to pay their fines.”
Skoog said the program was modeled after DeKalb County and ends a long search for how to better recover past-due fines. A 2012 analysis showed 13,500 court cases dating back a decade have about $3.3 million in unpaid court fines attached to them.
Skoog said he’s unsure how much can be saved, in part because discussions are underway to extend the same conditions to the various municipal courts, where traffic tickets and ordinance violations can be settled without driving to Ottawa. Chief Judge H. Chris Ryan Jr. noted, however, that the collections route is for fines only. Restitution remains subject to pay-by-installments.
“We have people on the time-to-pay call for restitution that have been paying for quite a few years,” Ryan said, but then noted: “Even if they get turned over to collections, the court has other options to make people pay.”