Have a parking ticket from the village of Brookfield that you haven’t paid? Or maybe the village adjudicator hit you with a fine for a blight citation, and you’ve let that payment slip. Or perhaps a police officer wrote you a ticket for a broken tail light, and you decided to take a pass on paying the fine.
Well, you may be forced to pay those fines if the village board later this month adopts a new state statute that allows governmental agencies to collect debts owed to it by deducting fines from state income tax refunds.
“This is an additional tool we have in place to collect some outstanding debts owed to the village of Brookfield,” said Village President Michael Garvey. “If someone is getting money back on a state income tax return we get a chance to get paid first.”
Brookfield is one of several municipalities contemplating taking advantage of the Local Debt Recovery Program, which became law on Jan. 1 and is being pushed by Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, a resident of Riverside.
“We happened to have the comptroller in town for dinner, and she asked when we were going to join this great program she has, so she can send us more of the money we’re entitled to,” said Garvey during a discussion of the issue at Monday night’s village board meeting. “I noted we were discussing it tonight.”
Village officials haven’t hammered out a formal policy for going after people who owe debts to the village, and Village Manager Riccardo Ginex said Monday that he hadn’t studied yet just how many people might be affected or what kind of revenue is out there for Brookfield to collect. It’s also unclear just how far back the village might go to collect unpaid debts.
But the village board is expected to vote to partner with the Illinois comptroller to begin seeking to collect unpaid debts to Brookfield by withdrawing the money from state income tax returns.
“I just wanted to make sure the board saw this and got it moving so we could move forward with it,” said Ginex.
Chicago expects a windfall of cash from the program, expecting to collect more than $8 million, which it plans on funneling toward police, after-school programs and summer jobs for kids. Since the Chicago City Council enacted the law in February, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, the city has collected more than $5 million.
Because Brookfield is getting something of a late start on this year’s run at those receiving income tax refunds from the state, it may have to wait another year before collecting from those who have already received their refunds.
Even if Brookfield trustees vote to move forward with the new law, it’s unclear whether staff will have put in place a process for determining which scofflaws to go after.
“At what point do we consider what’s owed to us a debt that we want to submit?” asked Trustee Kit Ketchmark. “We should have a policy in place, whether it’s a dollar amount or a time or something, where once that parking ticket is six months old we turn it over, where we’re doing it on a regular basis that way.”
Ginex said that while the policy hadn’t been hammered out yet, his feeling was that Brookfield would be targeting long-term scofflaws.
“We’re going to [go after] some things that are really delinquent,” Ginex said.
According to the new statute, if a governmental unit passes this measure – and any governmental unit can do so, including school districts, public universities and counties – if someone owes a government debt, the amount will be deducted from their state tax refund and placed in a special comptroller’s account.
That action triggers a notification letter to the debtor, which has 60 days to file a protest. If no protest is made, the funds are transferred to the government entity that is owed the money.
In addition to state tax returns, the debts can be deducted from lottery winnings, or state retirement or payrolls checks.
And the comptroller’s office also gets a piece of the action. For each transaction, the comptroller’s office will deduct a “processing charge” of $15, according to the statute. The $15 fee is deducted from the amount owed to the governmental unit and is not added to the amount of the debt. The processing fees will be used to fund the debt recovery program, according to the statute.
This is the second time in a month that the village board has discussed collecting fines owed to the village by scofflaws. In February, the board consented to have the police department restart the practice of immobilizing vehicles whose owners are repeated scofflaws.
In 2011, some 71 people had five or more unpaid parking tickets, according to village records, and owed the village a total of about $30,000 in fines and late fees.