Most fines not collectable, Town Council is told

By Ann McCreary

Winthrop won’t try to collect on old unpaid traffic tickets dating back to 1993 that are considered “uncollectable,” the Town Council has decided.

The council decided last week to write off almost $49,000 of unpaid fines owed the town, many of which are more than 10 years old and have therefore passed the statute of limitations for collection, said Michelle Gaines, town clerk.

The citations are for a variety of infractions such as moving violations, illegal parking, and lack of insurance, Gaines said. The tickets “are just sitting on the books for the municipal court,” she said.

The town notifies the state Department of Licensing when a motorist fails to pay a ticket, and the state will not permit the motorist’s driver’s license to be renewed until the ticket is paid, Gaines said.

“These people presumably have not renewed their driver’s licenses because the Department of Licensing won’t allow it,” she said.

A large number of the tickets involve out-of state and Canadian motorists, who aren’t subject to the same consequences as state residents, said Winthrop Marshall Hal Henning.

Municipal Judge Dave Ebenger said it is usually not possible to collect from Canadian motorists who don’t pay their tickets.

“Canadians are untouchable. It’s a county-wide problem, a statewide problem,” Ebenger said.

He said other municipalities have faced similar issues with unpaid and uncollectable fines. “They went through this in Omak and wrote off more than $100,000,” he said.

“You’d be astounded by the number of people driving with suspended licenses,” Ebenger added. “It’s become a real problem statewide.”

Gaines said Winthrop will wipe the unpaid fines off the town’s books. However, the town has put in place a new system to help collect fines in the future, she said.

“From this point forward we are sending them to collections,” Gaines told the Town Council. Winthrop signed an agreement last year with a collections agency to try to recoup fines dating back to 2006.