In some counties, citizens who can’t pay off the debts they owe their city end up in county jail. San Francisco’s Superior Court, however, has one of the country’s most compassionate payment plan programs for debtors who can’t immediately pay off their debts to the city. So there’s a lot to be proud of.

But while the collections staff will work with you to form a payment plan, there’s one form of payment that’s come under some fire: the city’s community service programs.

Impractically priced, with attached fees and pay rates of $6/hr, these city-funded programs that are supposed to enable the poorest among us to work off their debt by doing community service are doing little good for the people who really need them. In these hard economic times, the poor cannot afford to work double time for half the pay.

And few of the financially hardship-afflicted sign up, according to an administrator at San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, which gets free labor through the city-funded (though how much it costs is unclear: Project 20, which runs work programs for the city, did not respond to this correspondent’s phone call) work program.

The work programs may, however, owe their continued existence to a different group of people, ticketed drivers and fined defendants who merely wish to give something back to the city.

I recently asked to meet a Project 20 volunteer and was introduced to Kevin Drew, who sounded ecstatic about the program. Drew, who lives in Marin County, says he can afford to pay off his parking tickets but prefers to spend his weekends making the city a better place to live. It doesn’t bother him that he’s getting paid $6/hr because he’s too wrapped up in the good services he’s providing with the good folks at the Bicycle Coalition.

“It’s also good for folks who get too many tickets who don’t have the money to give a little bit to the general kind of social well being of the city,” Drew said. “I got a job. I could really afford it. I just choose not to.”

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