The city of McAlester is stepping forward to offer a break to offenders facing arrest warrants because they are behind on their fines, fees and other costs in municipal court.

Under the Clean Slate Program, those with outstanding arrest warrants due to unpaid fines and/or court fees in McAlester Municipal Court are being offered the chance to pay off the fines and fees at a 75% reduction. The remaining amount would be required to be paid in one payment.

"There is no pay plan. They have to come in and pay the remaining 25%," said McAlester City Clerk Karen Boatright.

Both Boatright and McAlester Police Chief Gary Wansick support the measure, passed as a resolution by city councilors during their regular Tuesday night meeting at City Hall. All five city councilors who were present joined McAlester Mayor John Browne in passing the measure.

It calls for the city to implement a Clean Slate Program "for outstanding city warrants due to the municipal court." The program is set to go into effect July 1 and remain in effect through Sept. 30, 2019.

Boatright said Wednesday the Clean Slate program is badly needed by some individuals.

"We've got people who can't work," she said, referring to those who are unable to drive because their license has been suspended due to unpaid fines and fees.

Wansick also said the program is needed.

"We have people arrested who are unable to pay," Wansick said. He maintained the Clean Slate Program will be beneficial. Although someone facing an outstanding city of McAlester arrest warrant may not be able to pay all of his or her outstanding fines and fees at the 100% level, he said they may be able to come up with the money needed for the 25% — which is all they will have to pay after the 75% reduction goes into effect July 1.

Ward 4 City Councilor James Brown asked what will happen if someone with an outstanding city arrest warrant doesn't make any effort to pay, even at the reduced rate.

"They will be arrested again," Wansick said.

Ward 3 Councilor Travis Read said the city needs to revisit its entire fine schedule. He suggested it is too high in some areas, which is why some fines have not been paid.

"It gets to the point where you price some people out of being able to pay," Read said.

"It gets to the point where it's too much," said Read. "They get to the point where they say 'I can't do it.'"

Following more discussion, Ward 2 Councilor Cully Stevens made a motion to pass the resolution, with an amendment to make those individuals who are already in the process of paying off their fines also eligible for inclusion in the Clean Slate Program.

The Clean Slate Program resolution approved by the council vote notes the city is offering it as an incentive for individuals to correct their outstanding arrest warrants. Benefits include providing relief to qualified individuals who have found themselves in default of a (city) court-ordered obligation resulting in an outstanding warrant.

It's designed to encourage repayment of old debt that has remained unpaid, "permitting the municipal court to focus limited resources on collecting more recent cases," the resolution states.

An amendment to the original proposed resolution set the July 1 through September 30 time period for the Clean Slate Program for anyone with city of McAlester "current and outstanding delinquent warrants."

"Eligible citizens may take advantage on a 75% reduction on all current and outstanding delinquent warrants, to include all fines, fees and costs, if paid in full," the resolution states. "No partial costs will be accepted."

City councilors who joined Mayor Browne in voting to approve the Clean Slate program were Ward 2 Councilor Stevens; Ward 3 Councilor Read; Ward 4 Councilor James Brown, Ward 5 Councilor Maureen Harrison and Ward 6 Councilor Zach Prichard.

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James Beaty is senior editor at the McAlester News-Capital