City Of Bethel Begins Garnishing Fines For Minor Offenses From PFD Checks

Nov 4, 2019

The City of Bethel has begun garnishing unpaid fines for minor offenses from PFD checks.
Credit City of Bethel

If you received your Permanent Fund Dividend check last month, it may have been smaller than you were expecting. The city of Bethel has started to garnish PFD checks for city fines for minor offenses.

When Bethel City Council Member Mark Springer opened his PFD check last month, he didn’t like what he saw.

“Before I got my dividend, I was like, 'Yes! One-thousand six-hundred bucks in the bank!' And it was $1,490. And I’m like, 'What the heck?' And I looked, and it said 'liened from the city of Bethel,'” Springer said.

Springer had a loose-dog fine from 2013 that he had forgotten to pay. 

Back in 2016, the council instructed the city attorney to collect unpaid fines for minor offenses by garnishing them from PFD checks. 

“I will own it because I guess I was on the council when we told her to go ahead and do it,” Springer said.

This may be the first year that the city has been able to integrate with the Alaska Court system and the Permanent Fund Division. At least City Clerk Lori Strickler says that this is the first year she has heard complaints from city residents about city liens on PFDs.

Residents with fines for minor offenses are supposed to be notified before the money is garnished from their checks. But if the offense and notification occurred years ago, residents may have been surprised by the missing amount in their dividend. 

This is not just a convenient way to retire your debt to the city. There are extra fees if you wait for the amount to be garnished from your PFD. Springer’s dog fine was originally just $50.

“It cost me 110 bucks between the police training surcharge, and the court fee, and the collection fee,” Springer said.

Springer is not the only one who had forgotten fines. Assistant Finance Director Ken Fay reported that the City of Bethel has received about $20,000 from PFD garnishments for city fines. That money will go into the city’s general fund.