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St. Helens court's plan to trim traffic fines not meeting goals
by: Scanned document CITED — St. Helens Municipal Court has 1,489 traffic cases on file that have gone to a collections agency.

Drivers who are late paying their traffic tickets should take note: A program that seeks to compel residents to pay outstanding fines in exchange for a reduced cost will be coming to an end next month in St. Helens.

The current program calls for as much as a 30-percent decrease to the cost of an outstanding traffic ticket, but on Oct. 15 the program is set to end amidst less-than-anticipated use.

City Administrator Chad Olsen said the program was always intended to end within a 12-month period as a way to incentivize its discount on ticket fines.

'It was never intended to be an ongoing program,' Olsen said, 'and that's why it was originally set for three months.'

City Council granted the program an extension once in July. But with user figures lower than expected, another extension is harder to justify again next month, officials say.

Though municipal court has 1,489 traffic cases on file that have gone to a collections agency, and another 70 that have resulted in suspended licenses due to failure to pay, only 17 people have used the program since April, said Malinda Duran, municipal court clerk. Forty-three people have inquired about the program.

'I wasn't sure what to expect at first,' said Duran, who proposed the program to St. Helens' City Council last spring. 'I do wish more people would take advantage of it.'

In April, the city started the temporary amnesty program for people who had lost their driver's licenses due to traffic citations. The program was also for drivers who had their traffic citations taken to a collections agency.

Despite the small number of people using the amnesty program, Duran pointed to the benefits of discounting traffic tickets.

'[The program] helps our defendants get their licenses back, so they can get employment,' Duran said. 'It also helps us get some of our cases off our books.'

The 17 tickets paid through the program came with an original value of $8,982.50, prior to the amnesty program's discount. With that discount, the actual figure the city received dropped to $7,036.66.

The decreased figure still represents money the city likely would not have received without the program's incentives in place, Duran said.

Statewide, similar programs have become a popular way to compel people to pay old tickets.

Communities such as Medford, Lebanon, Newberg-Dundee and Salem have put amnesty programs in place over the past two years, with fine decreases anywhere from 25 to 50 percent.

Olsen said it's too early to tell how St. Helens' program stacked up compared to similar temporary ticket discounts statewide.

People who believe they're eligible for the program should first check with the Department of Motor Vehicles to determine what's required to obtain a valid driver's license again. Once they've paid the city's fine, the municipal court will give them clearance forms to take back to the DMV, a step necessary to ensure the license is reinstated.

The DMV may still refuse to reinstate the license if there are other outstanding tickets against the driver from other agencies, such as a sheriff's office or Oregon State Police.