UPDATE: The City of Dalton is out more than $4.5 million dollars from unpaid court fines, and the people responsible for that outstanding balance will soon be forces to pay up.

The city joined a new pilot program that collects outstanding court fines through Georgia state income tax refunds.

Legislation was passed in 2014 that authorizes the Georgia Tax Refund Intercept Program (TRIP), to allow the collection from state income tax refunds to satisfy unpaid court-ordered fines.

"These folks have already been found adjudicated, or found to be owing this money, and it's just money that's owed to the city," said Robert Cowan, Dalton Municipal Court Judge.

For the first time people who owe money to the city of Dalton will have their bill taken directly from their tax refund.

As part of this pilot program, the city will be collecting fines from the past six years.
It adds up to more than $10,000 unpaid citations, totaling to more than $4.5 million dollars in unpaid court fines.

The Dalton City Council approved the city’s participation in the program in October.

Those with outstanding court fines would get a 30-day notice before their tax refund is garnished. 
"The money will go to the general fund, the city's general fund, and then city council will do with it what they think is most appropriate for the citizens of the city."

When people file their tax returns next year, the money they owe will be deducted from their refund.
$20 of each citation will go to the state for administrative costs to upkeep the program.

Anyone who owes money will soon receive a letter from the city clerk, giving them a heads up and one more chance to pay their bill.

"Everyone who hasn't paid knows that haven't paid," Cowan said, "But if they get the letter and are surprised they should call us and lets see what our records show and lets see if we can work something out."

Judge Cowan says there really isn't a downside for the city and expects other municipalities will join in on the success.

"I'm sure once all the kinks are worked out, they'll be right on board," Cowan said.

The first round of notification letters were sent out in October, and the court clerk says a few people have already come in to pay their balance.
Judge Cowan says if the pilot program is successful, this should be available to all municipalities in Georgia in two years.

Offenders have the right to contest the collection or dispute the amount, but if they don't, the funds go to pay state-mandated surcharges and the outstanding fines due to the city with the remainder going to the individual.

For more information, see the program website at www.trip.georgiacourts.gov or contact the program’s administrators directly at 404-463-5127.