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Commission wants to work with Solutia; decision lies with Hawkins

Webber Van Hudson, a representative with Solutia Revenue Recovery out of Columbia Tennessee, made the long trip to Mountain City to present information about his company at Thursday’s commission meeting. Primarily focused on the collection of unpaid fines, Solutia was the company that former County Commissioner Ronnie Perkins contacted more than two years ago in an effort to pursue some of Johnson County’s many unpaid accounts. Working with Circuit Court Clerk Carolyn Wilson Hawkins at that time, the issue was brought before the county commission who gave their full blessing.
Despite having a written agreement drawn up, nothing else was ever done and the issue largely died until a few months ago when Commissioner Jack Proffit brought it up amid discussions concerning shortfalls in the county budget. Since then, Commissioner Jonathan Pleasant was able to get in touch with Solutia in the hopes of getting the issue back on track. According to Tennessee Code Annotated, the Circuit Court Clerk is one of the only officials that have the ability to enter into an agreement with a collection agency, and as a result Ms. Hawkins was invited to attend the meeting as well. Unfortunately she was not in attendance, but Hudson’s presentation was a good opportunity to get a better understanding of what Solutia can offer the county.
According to Hudson, Tennessee law states that the collection agency can only charge up to 40% of the actual fine with a $50 cap. This fee is added to each individual charge and by adding it onto the outstanding fine itself, the company prevents the county from accruing any cost at all. Additionally there is no contract to sign and if the county is unhappy with the service they are receiving there is only a requirement to allow 45 days to clear up active accounts.
Solutia has had a strong success rate and uses a number of tools to make the collections, beginning with written notification, persistent phone calls, and ultimately reporting to the major credit bureaus. Hudson noted that this has been extremely effective considering that once reported it becomes very difficult for the debtor to enter into other financial agreements such as connecting a phone service or receiving a loan for a car or house.
Solutia is now used in 41 of Tennessee’s 95 counties and is used by the state courts as well. The one disadvantage that Johnson County has is that the company cannot access the information they need through the county’s current computer software. This means that for Solutia to receive the information it would have to either be entered into another file type that they can access or hardcopies would have to be made and sent in for every file.
While this would be a time consuming task, Hudson did inform the commission that there are several options to get the work done without directly burdening the Court Clerk’s already overworked office, primarily because the task does not require any sort of special qualifications. Hudson went on to say that although Johnson County doesn’t use the same system that most of the state does, getting hard copies usually improves the company’s success rate because more information becomes available for each account.
Hudson concluded his presentation by explaining that exactly how much success there would be for Johnson County remains to be seen, but that the company averages 30-35% returns on their pursuit and have had as high as 48%. In some counties Solutia has been able to collect tens of thousands of dollars each year, but at the low end there have been some counties where less than $10,000 was collected. Hudson did note however, that once the company has begun work and the agreement is in place most circuit court clerks have found it to actually ease some of their workload.
Many commissioners had questions, with Jerry Gentry addressing whether or not the county would have to put bids out before a decision could be made. However, according to Hudson because the agreement would not cost the county any real money it would not fall under the bidding requirement. County Attorney Bill Cockett agreed that it would not be necessary, but if the county did decide to go ahead with the agreement bidding could be an option.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.