The village of Riverside’s move to aggressively enforce its vehicle sticker ordinance to the letter of the law has netted the village almost $150,000 already, and bills are out for another $79,000. But village officials say that money was never their prime motive.

“When I started this in ’08 and when we did this again this year, I’ve always looked at this as, first and foremost, fairness,” said Kevin Wachtel the finance director for the village of Riverside.

“You’ve got 6,000-plus people that buy your stickers every year,” he said. “There’s a handful that don’t, so, how could we enforce that? There is the money part of it, too. It’s nice to have the influx of revenue, but first and foremost it’s fairness.”

However, a lot of Riverside residents seem to think otherwise after being hit with bills for three years of past-due notices and penalties that sometimes amounted to more than $600.

The village originally said that resident Tom Mantel owed $570 for two motorcycles that lacked stickers. But after Mantel convinced an adjudication panel on July 27 that one of his motorcycles was inoperable, he ended up having to pay “just” $270.

Mantel said for most of the years in question the bikes were in Connecticut, where his son was going to school, but he had to pay anyway since they were registered to his Riverside address.

“It’s better than paying full price which is what they wanted, but motorcycles are toys,’ he said after the July 27 hearing at the Riverside Township Hall. “They’re not my main car, so it’s a lot of money to be paying to have a toy laying around.

“I think they could have done it a better way, but everybody’s looking for money. Everybody’s trying to hustle as much money as they can. In the long run, I think it’s going to hurt them. People have other locations that they can register vehicles at, second homes and all that, so I think in the long run they’re going to actually lose money.”

The village used its geographic information systems (GIS) database software, first purchased to help in locating sewer and water mains for utility mapping, to cross check vehicle registration data from the Illinois Secretary of State’s office with local data.

“When we bought it, we didn’t have any idea we’d be using it for vehicle stickers in 2010, but that’s what ended up happening,” Wachtel said.

If the software showed a car was registered to a Riverside address, but didn’t have a Riverside vehicle sticker, a notice of violation was sent out for up to three years of past-due vehicle stickers and penalties, from $110 to $135 a year.

Before the violations notices were sent out, the village offered an amnesty program in February and March, allowing residents who did not have vehicle stickers pay for the prior-year stickers and avoid the penalties.

When the amnesty program ended on March 12, the village began to aggressively go after the stickers scofflaws.

Many in town were outraged.

Some who were pursued for sticker violations said that they had sold the car the village was demanding money for or did not even own the car for the years in which the village was saying that stickers were needed.

Others said that the village was demanding stickers for cars belonging to children away at college or in the military and were not kept or driven in Riverside, although they had Illinois license plates and were registered to a Riverside address.

It doesn’t matter where the vehicle is located, the village said.

“We go by where the registration is,” Wachtel said.

Hearings in July allowed residents an opportunity to present their cases at adjudication hearings before retired judge John Morrissey at village hall. Sitting with Morrissey, and examining the documents residents brought with them, were Wachtel and Village Attorney Lance Malina. At a hearing on July 27, Wachtel and Malina, more than Morrissey, appeared to make the decisions.

At the hearings many penalties were typically waived and most residents were allowed to pay for prior-year stickers without paying any additional fees.

So far the village has taken in $37,000 in additional revenue from the owners of 107 vehicles, who purchased stickers during the amnesty period. It collected another $110,000 after the village sent out violation notices and held hearings. Riverside sold about 700 more vehicle stickers as a result.

Riverside is still owed another $79,000, Wachtel said.

Village Manager Peter Scalera insists that the stepped up enforcement was not about the money.

“It was always really a fairness issue that was the primary driver for doing this,” Scalera said.

Read about one woman’s battle with the village over vehicle stickers