Thursday, September 18, 2014

Town lacks teeth to collect fines

The tally of unpaid fines under the Provincial Offences Act (POA) keeps getting higher because the town has limited powers to collect them.
The topic of uncollected fines came up during last night’s council meeting, at which the write-off of the 2007 POA accounts receivable in the amount of $125,521.30 was approved.

Town treasurer Laurie Witherspoon noted these “fines are written-off for accounting purposes only and do not absolve a convicted offender from the requirement to pay a fine as debts to the Crown are owed in perpetuity and are never forgiven.”
Coun. Paul Ryan explained the province handled POA fines at one time but this was downloaded to municipalities in September, 2000.
As of Dec. 31, 2013, there is just under $1.9 million in unpaid POA fines owed to the town, noted Witherspoon.
When the province handed the responsibility over the town, the total was about $1.2 million.
“We have hired a collection agency and have been trying to collect, and we have been somewhat successful,” said Witherspoon.
She added there also is a program where, if certain fines remain unpaid, the town can “send a driver’s licence suspension or plate denial.”
“But there’s a lot of fines, especially Liquor Act fines, that we cannot do that for,” Witherspoon noted.
She admitted the town is “hampered,” and the town has no interprovincial agreements for collections nor out-of-country agreements.
This means if someone from out of province or the U.S. comes here, breaks the law, and is fined, it’s very hard to collect that fine from them once they leave Ontario.
Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft said the province is looking at increasing mechanisms by which municipalities can collect unpaid fines, but “that’s still in the works.”
Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig said the town has brought the issue forth to senior government a number of times.
He explained the town has asked for a reciprocal agreement among provinces.
“I don’t know if it would be a data base,” McCaig remarked. “Maybe you could look at things like tax returns, involve the border. . . .
“Have these interprovincial reciprocal agreements whereby you could refuse licensing because somebody in, for example, Saskatchewan, was fined in Fort Frances.
“Until we get that, our collection practices and the tools that we have don’t have a lot of teeth,” McCaig added.
“That’s why we see these big numbers.”
Also at last night’s meeting, council:
•held a public meting regarding the new zoning bylaw (no one spoke against the bylaw, which will be up for vote by council at its next regular meeting Jan. 27);
•supported, in principle, construction of an assisted living facility in Fort Frances;
•appointed Irene Laing to the Committee of Adjustment for a term ending Nov. 30, 2014;
•referred a request from E. Ward, re: placement of a memorial bench on the riverfront walkway, to the Operations and Facilities executive committee for its recommendation;
•referred a financial request from the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, re: its annual membership and fundraising campaign, to the Administration and Finance executive committee for its recommendation;
•passed a bylaw to provide for an interim tax levy in the year 2014 (interim tax bills will be mailed out shortly, with 50 percent of the levy due by Feb. 28 and the balance by March 31); and
•passed a bylaw to authorize a credit agreement with CIBC.

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