Baltimore County starts to collect on overdue drug-counseling fees


Getting stiffed for a $15 drug counseling fee may not seem like much to worry about in a government agency with a $5 million budget, but the director of Baltimore County's Office of Substance Abuse is concerned.

Mike Gimbel, the director, found out this summer that 408 clients owe his agency a total of $51,665.78 for counseling they received in one of the department's five programs. Since Mr. Gimbel's office depends entirely on state grants and fees it collects, it was out $51,665.78 that could be used to help more people kick their drug or alcohol habits.

Since the county usually writes off small debts, particularly those owed to health agencies, Mr. Gimbel said he held out little hope of collecting on any of them -- until he discovered that the state would do the job for him.

"It's really cool," he said, of the state's Central Collection Unit, which will try to collect from those who owe the county drug-abuse office because it's a state-funded agency.

Since dunning notices from the state went out July 28, he said, former clients have mailed in $300 in checks directly to his Towson office. Dominic Coriere, a state collection worker, said the collection unit has received another $400.

Mr. Gimbel said his office has also fielded a dozen phone calls from people who owe money and were worried about the notices.

Mr. Gimbel said he expects more money in the coming year, because the state collection unit has the authority to intercept state income tax refunds headed for those who owe money and subtract the amount the county is due.

The state assesses an extra 17 percent fee on the debts to pay for the collection services. Most of the debts are under $500, though three people owe between $1,000 and $1,400, he said.

"We can't just go back to the county to replace this money," Mr. Gimbel said.

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