By Bob Uphues
A foot of snow wasn't the only thing aggravating many Brookfield residents a little more than a week ago. On top of the snow and cold temperatures, about 5,000 letters landed in mailboxes on Feb. 10, informing folks they owed the village for failing to buy vehicle stickers for cars, trucks and motorcycles registered to their addresses.
The mailing was the result of an audit comparing vehicle registration information provided by the Illinois Secretary of State and local vehicle sticker applications, a process that took months to complete and resulted in errors that frustrated residents.
After spending the first couple of days fielding calls from angry residents, village officials say they had worked to sort out discrepancies that resulted from a variety of circumstances – from village/state differences in coding vanity license plates and motorcycle plates to vehicles that had been sold.
According to Brookfield Finance Director Doug Cooper, the village sought the information from the state last fall as officials sought ways to recapture declining vehicle sticker revenue in the face of a tight 2018 budget. The village didn't get the information it requested from the state until January.
"That delay is part of the issue," Cooper said. "There was a lot of change since the time info was run to the time we got it."
Brookfield last conducted a vehicle sticker audit in 2012, also as a way to bolster revenues in what was still an economy struggling out of a recession, with property tax revenues stagnant due to declining real estate assessments.
That audit boosted vehicle sticker revenues from $360,330 in 2011 to more than $540,000 in 2012. But that number has been declining in recent years, dipping to about $435,000 in 2017.
"Those numbers should stay steady, so the numbers are indicating we're not in full compliance with the vehicle sticker code," Cooper said.
While there were undeniable snafus with the most recent mailing, the audit is working, said Cooper. From Feb. 12-14, the village collected more than $8,500 for vehicle stickers that should have been purchased last spring.
In all, said Cooper, the village hopes to recoup an addition $40,000 to $50,000. And when renewals are mailed out in the spring, the village will have the updated information from the audit to make sure revenues match the roughly $475,000 the village collected between 2013 and 2015, right after the prior audit.
"We want to get back up to that level," Cooper said.
In addition to the audit, residents should probably expect vehicle sticker fees to increase when renewals go out in May.
The increase is likely to be part of a comprehensive overhaul of the village's fee structure – from liquor licenses to ambulance fees, meter fees, parking tickets and more -- which was last amended in 2012.
"We want to make sure each fee charged has a connection to the cost of what it's for and to be at least moderately competitive with surrounding municipalities," said Village Manager Keith Sbiral, who said staff may bring a proposal to the village board for discussion as early as Feb. 26, the date of the board's next meeting.
The discussion comes not only in light of the 2018 budget just passed by the village board but in the wake of a budget address by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner that indicated he wanted a permanent 10-percent cut to the Local Government Distributive Fund, a share of state income taxes that help fund municipal operations.
Such a cut would mean permanently eliminating more than $100,000 in revenue the village previously received from the fund.
"No matter how you look at it, it's $130,000 that's no longer there," said Sbiral.