People who are fined for city ordinance violations in Macomb will now be able to set up a monthly payment plan and sign up for monthly text messages that will remind them to make a payment either online or through the mail.
The violations include offenses such as underage drinking, fighting, and low levels of marijuana possession. The accompanying fines can range from $100 to $750 before court fees are added in.
Judge Heidi Benson said once someone pleads guilty to an ordinance violation, the court establishes a deadline to have the corresponding fine paid off. But there's a gap in that system.
“Of course human nature is: out of sight, out of mind,” said Judge Benson. “There is nothing that gets sent to remind you that you have that obligation. It isn’t like a power bill where you’re getting a monthly invoice, and there’s no notice of hearing that goes out. So what we were getting was a lot of people eight months later who had not paid and then would forget about their court date.”
And if someone missed their court date, a warrant was issued for their arrest.
That led Judge Benson to work with Judge William Poncin and Macomb City Attorney Kristen Petrie to establish a monthly payment plan system that includes text message alerts to help remind people of their payments and court appearances.
Judge Benson said the majority of those who commit city code violations are young adults and college students. She hoped the new system will help them take responsibility for their actions.
“It really doesn’t help somebody learn the lesson if grandma steps in and pays off the fine that the grandson got for urinating on someone’s car. All that teaches is, 'Man, I got a great grandma.' It does not teach him, ‘Boy that was a bad night. It’s really gross when you do that and it’s against the law.'"
The city is spending more than $300 on a one-year subscription for the text messaging service. Benson said the city hopes to recover that expense through an increase compliance and a decrease in picking people up on warrants, which costs the county money.
Benson said if the text message service is deemed successful, the city could look to expand it into criminal court cases.