As Brookfield residents prepare for the annual rite of shelling $40 a pop to buy vehicle stickers for their cars next month, thousands of residents got an added bonus in the mail at the beginning of May.
Using vehicle data purchased from the Illinois Secretary of State, the village identified 5,900 vehicles in town whose owners did not purchase vehicle stickers in 2011. Using that information, the village on April 30 mailed out letters on police department letterhead, informing those residents that, in addition to the $40 they’d have to pay for those vehicles in 2012, they owe $60 for last year – the $40 cost of the sticker and a $20 late fee (for those who own unregistered trucks, the amount is higher).
Brookfield officials have been talking about a vehicle sticker scofflaw crackdown since August 2010. At the time, they talked about getting up to three years’ worth of information and going after scofflaws who repeatedly failed to buy stickers. But eventually they determined that data was too unreliable. Instead they settled on going after those who hadn’t bought stickers the previous year, in 2011.
Assistant Village Manager Keith Sbiral said the additional revenue to the village, both in 2012 because of the past-due revenue and in the future because more vehicle stickers will get purchased, could be significant.
If the village collected on all of the notices it sent out, it would be in line for an additional $350,000. But Sbiral knows that number is unlikely to be reached, given the age of the data received by the state.
“I don’t think that’s realistic,” said Sbiral, “but we could be looking at the $100,000 range.”
In the week after the notices were sent out, Brookfield collected $30,000, said Sbiral.
The notices were met with a barrage of phone calls to the village during the first week of May, according to Sbiral.
Most of those calls, however, had to do with vehicles no longer owned by the resident or because the data about the vehicle simply wasn’t accurate.
“In at least 50 to 60 percent of the calls, there was an issue with the data the Secretary of State had or we had,” said Sbiral. “We cleaned up a lot of those and by [May 7] we had fewer calls; more were just buying the stickers.”
But some residents are still unhappy with the notices, which came without warning a month before the 2012 stickers need to be purchased.
Carrie Park said she owns a classic car that’s kept in the garage and is almost never driven on the streets. That’s different from a car used regularly, she said.
“Half the time we’re working on it, the other half we’re trying to get it to run,” said Park. “We take it out about three times a year.”
She also criticized the timing of the notices, saying the village could have warned people sooner. Adding another bill right when new vehicle stickers are due is a hardship, she said.
“To sock us with a $60 penalty the month before the sticker is due, to get this out of the blue, I was really shocked,” Park said.
Others have vehicles that their children use out of town at college, for example. Why should owners have to purchase stickers for those vehicles as well?
But officials say they can’t make that distinction. If the vehicle is registered to an address in Brookfield – whether it’s kept under a protective cloth in the garage or not – its owner must buy a sticker.
“The ordinance, as it reads, says that if it’s registered in Brookfield, the sticker needs to be purchased in Brookfield,” Sbiral said.
Renewal notices for 2012 vehicle stickers will go in the mail around June 1 and need to be purchased by July 1. Anyone who hasn’t paid for a 2011 sticker must pay for both at the same time.
For those who refuse to pay for a 2011 sticker, the next step will involve the village issuing a $35 citation in addition to the past due amount.
“It can get expensive fast,” said Sbiral.
And if a resident refuses to pay even after being cited, Brookfield will simply seek to recoup the fee through the Illinois comptroller’s debt recovery program, which will take the penalty out of the resident’s income tax refund.
The village approved taking part of the comptroller’s new program in March.