The average cost of a speeding ticket: $140.

Court costs at a district judge’s office: $32.50.

The opportunity to pay fines and traffic tickets with plastic: Priceless.

In another move aimed at bringing business principles to Somerset County government, commissioners have given the go-ahead for District Judge Art Cook to begin accepting payments by credit card starting Friday.

“It’s one of the few things that all sides benefit from – the county, the courts and defendants,” Cook said. “We’re delighted.”

All five district judge offices in the county are expected to begin taking credit payments by January, Commissioner Jimmy Marker said.

“This is a typical instance of applying business practices to government,” he said Tuesday after a prison-board meeting. Marker said the idea should increase revenues while cutting postage costs to send out monthly statements.

It already has proven to be effective in tax claim, where credit-card payments have risen from $231,000 in 2004 to a projected $552,000 this year.

“It does save hassle,” Marker said. “It really accelerates our revenue and gives people another avenue to pay their taxes. That’s one of the reasons our tax revenue is up in the county over the years.”

Cook said staffers spend considerable time setting up payment plans, recording information by computer and sending payment receipts.

When defendants default on those plans, Cook said, warrants have to be issued and constables sent out, or the scofflaws’ driver’s licenses are suspended.

“Taxpayers benefit,” he added. “The amount of money the courts will be collecting up front and quickly will be enormous.”

He said most of the 9,000 traffic citations his office handles annually are from motorists on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

“We have requests every day that people want to pay their traffic fines with a credit card, and we have been turning them down for years,” Cook said.

“I think it’s a great idea,” District Judge Susan Mankamyer of Boswell said. “I’ve seen an increase in the number of requests we’ve had, both from local people and out-of-state drivers. The other judges are very much in favor of it as well.”

In Cambria County, President Judge Gerard Long has ruled out allowing district judges to accept credit cards from defendants to pay fines and court costs, Court Administrator Don Scotilla said. Only cash, money orders and checks are accepted, Scotilla said.

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