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Clerk seeks money for Web services

CONYERS -- Paying court fines online could become a reality next year as Rockdale County Clerk of Courts Ruth Wilson sought funding for a separate website for her office during meetings for the county's 2011 budget.

The proposed amount to start up and run the website is $3,500 which Wilson said would greatly enhance her service to the county and the local judicial system.

The proposal moves away from a long-standing goal to have many services and information centralized on a single website, www.rockdalecounty.org. Wilson said during a budget hearing last week she sees the Clerk of Courts website linked to the county's but should remain separate. She said the goal is to make it easier for people to pay their court fines and fees and lessen the work load of her front office personnel.

"There are certain pay functions that we want the public to find easily without having to go through the county website and trying to fish around and find it," Wilson said. "They need to quickly find the Clerk of Courts website."

Wilson said the need is great for new ways to operate in times of tight budgets. She noted that while demand on her office and the court system has grown in step with the county's population her budget and staff have remained the same over the last two years.

She reported that her office oversees a significant flow of revenue for the county.

Disbursements from the clerk's office to county government averages $2.8 million annually, or 69 percent of all money coming through the office, according to Wilson. Public schools receives $1.2 million, 29 percent, and the city of Conyers receives $75,000 in revenue coming through the Clerk of Courts office.

Rockdale County Commissioner JaNice Van Ness questioned Wilson why she was not going through the county's website. Wilson said she discussed the matter with the county's Public Affairs office but decided a separate website was the best route and that the focus of the county website differs from what she wants to do.

"I think the intent there is to have one, broad website for the entire county, so a person would have to go first to the county then find the button for the Clerk of Courts," Wilson said. "It's not always easy."

Van Ness agreed with Wilson on using online pay services for her office and she hoped the same can be done for Rockdale Water Resources, traffic tickets and other county functions. However, she held her reservations on various departments operating their own websites.

"It's a little bit of a concern that you have to have a separate website and we couldn't facilitate that for you," Van Ness said. "It's always great to have one central site."

Wilson said she was requesting a modest budget that remains in line with the previous two years. One area of increasing, however, was for a new service.

New state legislation, referred to as SB 346, goes into effect on Jan. 1 that places the management of a county's Board of Equalization to the Clerk of Courts from the Tax Assessors office.

The Board of Equalization hears appeals from property owners who disputes the county's property value estimates for purposes of tax assessments. The new legislation was spurred by an increase in those appeals and an attempt to keep the hearings as impartial as possible, Wilson said.

The new responsibilities adds about $82,000 to the Clerks of Courts budget of which much of it is start up costs that would not be repeated in 2010, Wilson said.

Rockdale County Commission Chairman Richard Oden said this is a first for the Clerk of Courts and the county. Not all of the money may be used, adding that there is no way to predict demand for equalization hearings, but that unused money could be rolled back into the general fund.

"What we have had in the past, really, just falls away. So this first year we want to make sure we are prepared to render the best possible service to the citizens of Rockdale County," he said. "So we may be over preparing just in case when we get there."