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Amnesty day on court fines in the works

NATCHEZ — Adams County will soon sponsor a get-out-of-jail for fees month.

In an effort to collect as much as possible of the up to $1.5 million in fines owned to justice court over the years, residents will be granted amnesty to pay those late fines to justice court without paying late fees or being thrown in jail for contempt of court.

Judge Charlie Vess suggested the idea, one he has been pushing for years, he said, at Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

“The amount of money (owed) is really overwhelming and more than I can (collect) on my own,” Vess said.

Vess said Jackson hosts an amnesty period for fine collection, and he has suggested it before to the board for Adams County, but this is the first time the supervisors agreed to execute the idea.

Any justice court fine will apply to the amnesty period, which Vess said might be the month of May.

“It could be fines for charges as simple as expired car tag or DUI never paid, or speeding ticket on traffic end, to felony aggravated assault reduced to simple assault,” Vess said.

Vess said an amnesty committee will form to include himself, Chancery Clerk Tommy O’Beirne, Board Attorney Bobby Cox and Justice Court Clerk Audrey Bailey.

The board unanimously gave permission Monday to publish an advertisement for the proposed amnesty period.

Vess said he also spoke with Sheriff Chuck Mayfield, who said the sheriff’s office would enforce contempt of court charges for those who still have outstanding fines after the amnesty period ends.

Vess said the committee might even consider publishing the names of those who owe fines if their fine is related to a felony that was reduced to a misdemeanor charge.

Vess said he would be willing to consider accepting partial fine payments and allowing the total to be paid over an extended period of time.

Vess said the county keeps 58-cents to every one dollar in justice court fines and the rest goes to the state.

He said collection of the fines is also important because the state officials might eventually question why it has not received its cut of the fines, which could jeopardize state grant funding.

District 1 Supervisor Mike Lazarus said the amnesty period is a good opportunity to collect as much of the money that is owned to the county as possible.

“That is more asphalt, more repairs to bridges and all the things county needs right now that we are struggling to pay for; $1 million in overdue fines — that’s a place to start right there,” Lazarus said.

“It’s just a chance to get (unpaid fines) off the record and get it paid without going to jail, because we need the fines paid,” Lazarus said.

“Or (the sheriff’s office) will start pursuing it; its gone on long enough.”

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