Circuit Court Clerk new computers should help increase fine collection
By Jonathan PleasantAs discussion over the budget has heated up for the past few months, much attention has been directed toward many of the county’s expenditures over the past year. One of the most scrutinized items has been a $60,000 purchase to install an entirely new computer system in the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office. Replacing equipment nearly 15 years old, the process of converting thousands of past files has been lengthy and not without its own set of problems. However, even after seeing the computers up and running for only a few weeks, indications have been very positive that the system is not only worth the money but could help see increases in the amount of funding and fines being collected by the office.
In addition to new services such as credit and debit card payment options for fines, the new computers also handle numerous automatic updates that have in some instances cut the circuit court’s paperwork in half. Deputy Clerk Melissa Holloway was one of the first to present the idea of hiring the new company at a county budget committee meeting last year and has since been one of their biggest proponents. Service for the county’s older system was always sporadic, but when a new entity named Saratoga bought the initial provider out, the office was ready for a change.
After doing some research Holloway discovered the Local Government Corporation out of Columbia Tennessee. Doing work with even the state’s highest courts, the company was well qualified and highly recommended, easily meeting all of the county’s specifications. The original price for installing and converting the new equipment was supposed to be around $50,000 but as Holloway pointed out, the office’s old server finally broke down just one month before the transition was to take place.
“We had to pay all that extra money just to get it fixed so that we could even do the conversion and pull our old stuff off that system,” Holloway said. “They wanted to sell us a new server, and that’s where the money came from. Without this conversion we would have had to buy entirely new equipment anyway which would have cost as much or more with no new capabilities.”
The new equipment consists of five computers, a central server, and a printer. Each computer has its own personal backup, which automatically saves everything in case of a power surge or outage, and the entire system is backed up off site weekly in case of a fire or other emergency in the courthouse. Constant power surges used to cause serious problems with lost and unsaved data, but with the new technology, even in a catastrophic event the clerk’s office could be back up and running in a short amount of time.
The new system also handles automatic updates from the state including the most up-to-date information on new state laws. Docket numbers are automatically created, saving time and materials, and tallies of various information including monthly reports to the Department of Safety keep track of everything from the number of new suspensions to child support cases and felonies. All of this information was formerly done by hand in an effort to take advantage of additional state funding that was not necessarily a requirement.
Most state updates are done by the system after hours so that it does not disrupt the work in the office. The new system also allows for payments of fees and fines online at www.courtfeepay.com, and if a specific docket or citation number is required a call to the Clerk’s office can provide the information.
One of the biggest and most anticipated new features is that the system can easily provide information pertaining to past due fines, allowing for easier collection in the future, potentially through a collection agency. Unfortunately, while Holloway confirms that all of the old files were transferred to the new system, errors did occur in the conversion process that will make accurate figures difficult to obtain.
“Everything is on here,” Holloway said. “The really old cases we are going to have to work on continuously. This system uses TCA code, and on a lot of our stuff the actual charge didn’t convert over. With those we have to go in there and actually look it up. It’s a little time consuming but very well worth it.”
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