Drivers are legally getting to work and paying off money for driving-related crimes in Plymouth County.
The program isn't new, but the growth of the collections indicates a payoff for crime victims and county taxpayers, according to Plymouth County Attorney Darin Raymond.
Raymond and his staff began working with judges and probation officers to collect unpaid fines in the mid-1990s.
"When I started this program, I was concerned there were victims of crime who waited through investigations, prosecution and probation to get paid and they never got their money," Raymond said.
Judges ordered payments, but the people convicted weren't able to pay and the collections were not a high priority for probation officers, he said.
The probation workers were dealing with ways to help offenders get sober, have stable living environment or other treatments, Raymond noted.
In his role as the county's prosecutor, Raymond saw recommendations that a judge end probation for people who stilled owed money.
"So I went after it for the victims," he said.
By pursing collection from those who owed the money ordered as part of court sentences, the county was able to retain 40 percent of the amount the county attorney's office collected, he explained.
The rest went to the state of Iowa.
Exceptions to the 40 percent share for the county were money owed to victims or the sheriff's office for jail time, Raymond noted.
Those were paid at 100 percent to the people, businesses or governments who were owed the money by people who'd been sentenced and weren't paying.
There was a change in state law to suspend people's drivers licenses when the drivers didn't pay fines, but the change wasn't a deterrent to driving.
They drove any way, a lot of them didn't have insurance and some were involved in accidents on highways where people got hurt, Raymond said.
Then, a few years ago, county attorneys were authorized to work with those offenders to help them get their driver's license back, the county's prosecutor said.
Raymond saw the need to work with drivers.
"They'll have three or four convictions for operating while under the influence, they owe $20,000 and they're going to drive anyway," Raymond pointed out.
Those drivers enter into a payment agreement with the county attorney and a letter is issued reinstating the person's driver's license.
Drivers responded and were added to existing collections efforts in the county attorney's office.
Staff also monitors people in the program on a month-to-month basis.
"Today, there are 865 people in the county attorney payment plan," Raymond said.
The county attorney collection program is not required by state law.
"We don't have to do it," Raymond said.
Nine counties in the state are making the collections at the level Plymouth County does.
Raymond sees two good outcomes locally.
"The first is people can get their lives put back together and some of them have thanked us greatly," he said.
Some of the drivers hadn't had a license for 10 years, Raymond added.
A few hoops are put in place such as a sizable down payment on the amounts owed to show the driver is committed to following through with a reasonable monthly payment.
The more modest monthly payment allows the driver to obtain insurance to get back on the road.
"It's working well and that has again brought a few more people to the table who want to pay and then the county gets some share of that," he said.
It's also a benefit to the crime victims who are paid money owed.
The county collected about $12,000 a year through the county attorney's office's efforts a decade ago.
Now collections reach that level monthly, Raymond reports.
The dollars are trending to collections by the county attorney's office of $130,000 to $140,000 a year.
One person in Raymond's office manages the payment program.
"It is taking a little bit more and more of her time as time goes by, but it's more than paying for itself at this point," Raymond said.