Wichita Co. coming up with solutions to collections office closure

WICHITA FALLS, Tx (RNN Texoma) - The Wichita County Collections Office has closed its doors. That's left a lot of people wondering what the county will do next.

The positions were cut in September when the county passed their annual budget. The Collections Office fell under the Wichita County Sheriff's Office.

However, Texas Sheriff's Office's are not required to be in charge of the Collections Office. That made Sheriff David Duke's decision a little bit easier when asked last summer what two positions should be cut from his office.

"I can't blame him," County Judge Woody Gossom said. "I think it was very smart thinking for him that he said he was going to do away with the collections personnel because they're not one of his core responsibilities."

Last summer Wichita County spent months on their budget, a process Sheriff Duke called a bloodbath. County Commissioners told him cuts were going to have to come from his office. Sheriff Duke said at first they wanted to cut two deputies.

"Our deputies on the streets are the guys that are actually catching the criminals, the felons, the people with guns, dope, drunk driving," Sheriff Duke said. "Those are the guys out there protecting our communities."

He was able to save the positions, but had to make cuts somewhere else and decided on the two positions he was was not required to have, the collections office.

"It was much better for me to decide which two when there's two I'm not obligated to have," Sheriff Duke said.

Judge Gossom said it's won't change where people go to pay their fines, but will change what they do to those who don't.

"The only thing that's really different is meeting the requirements in the law that require the follow-up for people that do not pay their fines as they agreed to," Judge Gossom said.

Judge Gossom is hoping the District Clerk can help fill the void by the end of the year and believes it could actually save the county money long-term after getting rid of the office that brought in $400,000 last year.

Judge Gossom believes they can save money by issuing more community service hours rather than fines.

"We're now having certain people concentrate more on just a part of the package instead of two people trying to see everything," he said. "We might actually make some improvements."

Sheriff Duke said he's gotten some pushback for the recommendations but has no regrets.

"I've heard people in the courthouse say it's my fault," Sheriff Duke said. "It's not my fault. I didn't come up and decide to mandate myself to get rid of two people."

Judge Gossom said when people don't pay those fines, Sheriff Duke and his office will be back in the collections business. But this time it's the business of apprehension and not collecting money.

Judge Gossom said he's not asking the court to be a collection agency, rather make sure court order is enforced. He believes losing the money won't hurt them if everything is done right because of some of the ideas they have in place to make up for it.

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