The Yolo County Grand Jury (YCGJ) received a citizen’s complaint expressing confusion about probation billing statements, particularly the types of fees and amounts owed. According to their press release, “The YCGJ became aware of underlying problems contributing to confusion and potential loss of revenue in the current Yolo County process for collection of probation fees and further decided to investigate the collection procedures of the Yolo County Collection Services and the Probation Department.”
The Yolo County Collection Services is in charge of collecting a variety of fees for the court and other County Departments, including probation fees except restitution.
Part of the problem is that they are “able to collect all the fees that are due from persons on probation. A significant number of monthly billing statements mailed to probationers are undelivered because of incorrect mailing addresses. This is due to insufficient staff, lack of pertinent staff training, and limited communications between the YCCS and the Probation Department.”
The Grand Jury found that, “The manual of procedures for processing and recording payments is not updated to the accounting and collection system currently being used. YCCS uses accounting and collection software that is not fully integrated with the Probation Department. The billing statements are not clear and often contain confusing, incomplete, or incorrect, information as to how much probationers owe and what the amounts represent.”
The Yolo County Collection Services and the Probation Department play separate roles in dealing with probation matters. The YCCS role is primarily fiscal, dealing with probationer payments and account records. On the other hand, the Probation Department focuses on probationer supervision and conduct obligations.
The Grand Jury found, “This role disparity leads to incongruent practices in collecting and processing probation fee payments, and consequently, contributes to a loss in County revenues.”
It also found that, while the Probation Department “has periodic face to face interaction with the probationers who are required to inform them of any change of residence,” it does “not have a routine practice of updating the probationers’ addresses for use by YCCS in collection efforts.”
The Grand Jury found that the billing and collections procedures of the YCCS during the full lifecycle of the individual’s probation “are not thoroughly understood by its staff, the Probation department or probationers.” Moreover, the monthly billing statements are difficult to understand. Both departments have faced cutbacks and attrition, therefore, “the Probation Department and the YCCS staff lack the training to operate the accounting and collection systems proficiently. Both departments had key personnel recently retire or reassigned who had extensive knowledge of the collection systems. This institutional knowledge was neither updated in the procedural manuals nor handed down to the new people in charge.”
- The monthly billing statements sent to probationers are difficult to understand.
- Billing and collection procedures of YCCS in the lifecycle of probation are not thoroughly understood by its staff, the Probation Department, or probationers.
- Due to attrition of experienced staff, the present employees at YCCS and the Probation Department are less knowledgeable about collection of probation fees.
- A significant issue in YCCS’s collection of payments is the amount of returned mail leading to increasing backlogs. YCCS has limited resources to determine correct addresses for billing statements that are returned as undeliverable mail.
- YCCS has minimal communication with the Probation Department to find the updated information on the whereabouts of the probationer.
- Software programs that are not integrated aggravate the problems in fee collection. The RevQ software currently being used in YCCS is inadequately supported and needs to be upgraded or replaced.
- Out of date manuals for key collection procedures make staff training difficult.
- By December 31, 2015, the Chief Financial Officer, in coordination with the Chief Probation Officer, shall modify the probationer monthly billing statement so that fees are identified and fully explained, including: initial fees, date, balance carried forward, new charges, adjustments, payments and current balance due by type of fees.
- By September 30, 2015, the Chief Financial Officer, and the Chief Probation Officer, in coordination with the County Administrator, shall create a unified business process diagram of the probation fee generation and collection process. This diagram shall include the probationer’s first contact with probation, case closure, and all processes in between. The diagram shall be designed to be used for process improvement, training and orientation of staff, and as a blueprint for new software if that becomes appropriate.
- By September 30, 2015, the Chief Financial Officer and the Chief Probation Officer shall establish protocols for improved communication between YCCS and Probation. These protocols shall include regular meetings, joint training, shared and updated manuals, clearly identified responsibilities, and shared access to information including probationers’ account status and current contact information.
- By September 30, 2015, the Chief Financial Officer shall create and publish quarterly reports indicating fees billed, fees collected, outstanding balances (accounts receivable) and amounts in delinquency (aging reports).
- By December 31, 2015, the Chief Financial Officer, in coordination with the Director of Human Resources, shall determine if additional staffing or funding is needed to efficiently process returned mail.
- By October 31, 2016, the Chief Financial Officer, in coordination with the Chief Probation Officer, shall implement a single accounting and collection software system to facilitate interdepartmental sharing of the probationer’s individual financial account information and probationers’ addresses updated in real time.