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Published: Monday, 2/4/2013

Municipal clerk of courts hires credit-card processing service

Atlanta firm has been answering calls, handling fine payments

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Business is brisk as usual in the clerk’s office of Toledo Municipal Court with one subtle difference: The phones aren't ringing nearly as much as they used to.

Since mid-November, Atlanta-based nCourt has been answering calls and handling credit card payments for fines and court costs for criminal and traffic cases over the phone for the clerk's office. Later this month the private firm will be taking payments for civil cases.

Clerk of Courts Vallie Bowman-English said the service is expected to save her office some $40,000 a year in credit card processing fees. It also is giving her staff, which has been reduced by nine employees since 2006, more time to wait on customers and to do their work without as many phone interruptions.

“I remember going out one morning and thinking, ‘Boy, it’s quiet.’ I kept thinking something was wrong,” she recalled. “I couldn’t figure out what it was until I stood still and realized the phone was not ringing.”

Alex Huguelet, chief deputy clerk, said the court put credit card processing services out to bid last June and selected nCourt. There is no direct cost for the service.

The court gets the payments for court costs and fines; nCourt gets the processing fee – 3.5 percent for transactions at the counter in the clerk's office and 5 percent over the phone or online, she said.

Ms. Bowman-English said by law, the clerk's office cannot pass on credit card fees to customers, meaning the court had to cover that expense in past years. More and more courts are turning to third-party vendors, which can charge the fees.

“A plus or a big bonus is they operate a blingual call center that takes our calls. It’s part of the service,” she said. “It helped us because it allows us to increase access to court without increasing the amount the court has to spend.”

The public now may make payments or inquire about cases seven days a week and in the evening. While the clerk of court’s office is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, nCourt is available 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

The firm also accepts a greater variety of credit cards.

“It just gives people a greater option and it gives us a greater chance of collecting,” Ms. Bowman-English said.

She added that many of the 1,000 or so phone calls her office gets every day are from people who say they can’t make it to court and want to reschedule. The clerk’s office cannot assist but has to refer them to the court.

“They get the calls, and they have standard responses they give,” she explained. “We sent them a list of the top 100 questions asked. If there is something they can do for a person, they do it. If we’re open, they’ll transfer the person to a clerk if there’s a question they can’t answer.”

While the clerk’s office has fewer employees than it once did, Ms. Bowman-English said the nCourt contract did not displace any workers.

“Absolutely not,” she said. “It’s just allowing the clerks to do the jobs they are mandated to do. It’s giving them more time to update transactions, to get files to court, to make sure records are being kept appropriately because they’re not answering phones all day.”

Contact Jennifer Feehan at jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.



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