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Denison says trade canned good to reduce court fines

Staff Writer
Herald Democrat
The city of Denison recently approve an amnesty program that lets residents exchange food donations for reductions on court fees and fines.

Individuals with municipal court fines and warrants will a new way to pay their debt next month.

The Denison City Council approved new guidelines for an amnesty program that will allow those with municipal court warrants and fines to donate canned food items in exchange for reductions to their fines.

This is the second time this year that the city has held this program, following an initial run in February. The current program is slated to extend from Oct. 1 through Oct. 16.

“It was very, very useful and allowed those who had them to clear warrants and their court fees do that in a way that helps the community,” City Manager Jud Rex said, regarding the first run.

Under the program, those with fines and warrants will be allowed to donated 10 canned food or non-perishable items for a $50 reduction in fines. A donation of 20 items would reduce the fee by $100.

Rex said the program is targeted toward municipal cases, which include traffic violations, many Class C misdemeanors, property and code violations and public intoxication, among others.

The program was initially conceived by Court Administrator Chris Wallentine as a way to give back to the community while also addressing the slacking warrants that the city has on file.

This demand also led the city to reestablish the city marshal position as a way to reduce these cases.

“We are still seeing a lot of outstanding warrants in our system that we want to help people clear up,” Rex said. “This has also been a particularly difficult year for people from an economic standpoint ... so there is a great need out there for community food. Put those two together and there is a great way to help the community and help people clear their warrants.”

In the first wave of the program, between 1,300 and 1,500 canned food items were donated, with about $6,500 in waived fees. Rex said these reductions did not have a significant impact on the city’s budget.

“We tend to budget fairly conservatively with our court fees just because it varies so greatly,” Rex said. “So $6,500 in a general fund budget of $20 million to $30 million isn’t much.”

Despite the initial reduction in the number of warrants, Wallentine said the program still has a long way to go toward clearing the city’s backlog.

“Currently, we have over 4900 outstanding warrants valued at approximately $2.3 million,” she said, noting the number of cases since then has increased. “During this time frame, February 17, 2020 through February 28, 2020, the court cleared 120 warrants as a result of the amnesty program.”