VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Could a proposed budget amendment in the General Assembly take money out of your pocket and put it into an attorney’s? That’s what one local law is pushing for.
“It’s pure bad government,” said Virginia Beach Treasurer John Atkinson.
In November, Atkinson’s office started collecting fines and court costs from delinquent citizens. He said there are about 100,000 cases in the city.
“I’m going to process all 100,000 of them,” he said. “I’m going to do it, and we are probably going to have some progress.”
Atkinson sent delinquents a letter letting them know to pay up or cars and bank accounts could be seized. Because of the Treasurer’s Office efforts, $113,000 went back into the city’s general fund in January, and the city expects to see about $750,000 by the end of the fiscal year.
But a proposed General Assembly amendment might take those duties out of Atkinson’s hands. The amendment was tacked on the proposed budget by Delegate Johnny Joannou, who represents Norfolk and Portsmouth. Joannou wants to outlaw city and county treasurers from collecting fines. He believes that job should be in the hands of outside law firms.
“Me doing it in Virginia Beach, well the cost of government is going to go down $750,000 a year,” Atkinson said. “If a private attorney gets it, the city of Virginia Beach does not make anything. They pocket that $750,000.”
Many localities contract law firms to handle collecting unpaid fines and court costs. In fact only five localities in the Commonwealth do it themselves, including Virginia Beach and Hampton.
In most cases, the money is collected and sent to the Supreme Court. It will then send money back to the locality, and if it was collected by a private law firm, it gets a cut.
“It’s pure profit right to them,” Atkinson added.
10 On Your Side tried contacting Joannou several times for comment, but he never called us back.
“Delegate Joannou is an attorney,” Atkinson said. “I’m sure he has plenty of friends that are attorneys. I’m sure one of them asked him to do so.”
Delegate Ron Villanueva, who represents Virginia Beach, says the amendment doesn’t need to be passed.
“I think we are going to work to defeat that budget amendment,” Villanueva said. “It would severely impact our city if that budget amendment went forward.”