In the land of San Bernardino, there is a marvelous machine that compresses time and eliminates tedious work. This “Magic Money Machine” also creates millions of dollars in savings . . .
Too good to be true? Well, this is one fable that has been turned into reality by the Superior Court of San Bernardino County. What they refer to as their “Magic Money Machine” has saved the court $3.8 million since November 2005.
This story begins in the spring of 2004, when the court performed time studies of the processing of mailed-in payments in the 11 court locations within San Bernardino County. These studies revealed that the courts were receiving a combined total of 700 pieces of mail daily, containing payments for fines. Seventeen clerks were needed to open the mail, process the payments, and make deposits.
The court then created a work team to review how payments were processed and recommend improvements. The team began by visiting local utility companies and the office of the county tax collector. After reviewing the payment processes in these offices, the team recommended revisions to the Courtesy Notice sent to defendants (those making payments on their fines). This notice was altered to include a tear-off payment coupon that contained optical scanning data (the actual case information) at the bottom of the notice.
Next, the court purchased automation hardware capable of opening 1,000 envelopes per hour. This was coupled with a remittance processing system that images the front and back of both the coupon and the check, eliminating the need to enter the payments manually and allowing the court to make next-day deposits.
Finally, ISD Corporation, the court’s software subcontractor, developed software that enabled the payment information to be uploaded into the court’s case management system.
This combination of hardware and software constitutes the “Magic Money Machine,” also known by its more mundane name, the Automated Mail Payment Processing System. The system not only processes payments very efficiently, it also generates large savings for the court. Instead of 17 clerks in 11 different locations, there are now just 4 in one centralized location. These 4 clerks process, balance, and correct the payments that the automated system rejects. The number of payments that require manual processing has fallen to 35 percent of the total—and there are fewer each year. The aforementioned $3.8 million in savings comes from the dramatic reduction in personnel.
It’s interesting to note that the annual savings for the court actually increase every year. This is because the 11 court locations presently receive an average of 1,000 mailed in payments each day, as opposed to the 700 received daily in 2004. This increased volume of mail would have required additional clerks to process the payments—at a substantially greater cost. As the amount of mail increases each year, so does the savings.
The “Magic Money Machine” has brought other benefits as well. A number of clerks have been relieved of the tedious work of processing payments and can spend their time assisting the public in more direct ways. The people served by the San Bernardino County court benefit from this assistance. In addition, those paying fines benefit from an up-to-date payment system that includes timely reminders, return envelopes, and rapid processing of payments.
The initial funding for the equipment and software development, which totaled $116,000, was obtained through local funds approved by the court’s Executive Committee.
Several other court systems have sent teams to learn about the automated processing system. In recent years, the Superior Courts of Riverside and Orange Counties have implemented similar systems.
To create an automated processing system, the San Bernardino court recommends that courts first analyze their current processing of mail-in payments and the associated costs. There are several vendors that offer automated payment systems, and these vendors can assist in developing cost models. The San Bernardino court is willing to help in this process.
The task of processing mailed-in payments, previously performed by 17 clerks at 11 locations, is now performed by a machine and 4 clerks at one central location. The improved process has freed clerks to assist the public in more direct ways. In addition, the court is now able to apply payments to customer accounts within one working day, thus directly benefiting the public.
• Has saved the court more than $3.8 million since November 2005
• Frees employees from tedious work
• Enables the court to serve the public more efficiently
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Pamela Nay, Court Financial Officer