Nine years ago, Brookfield trustees sought to recover revenue from unpaid fines through the Illinois comptroller’s then-new Local Debt Recovery Program.
Debts to the village owed by scofflaws who blew off collection notices for property maintenance fines, final water bill payments, parking tickets and the like would be tallied up and the fines would be deducted from the scofflaws’ income tax refund checks.
Brookfield expected to collect tens of thousands of dollars annually through the Illinois comptroller’s program. While trustees voted unanimously to approve an intergovernmental agreement back in March 2012, however, there doesn’t seem to have been any follow though.
When Village Manager Timothy Wiberg tasked his assistant, George Issakoo, last year with exploring the comptroller’s program as part of a strategy to realize as much revenue as possible, they were surprised to find out the village already had an agreement on file with the comptroller.
“I’m not sure what the reason was that they didn’t pursue this in 2012,” said Issakoo, who was hired as assistant village manager in 2019. “Something must’ve fallen off at some point.”
Brookfield Finance Director Doug Cooper, who was around back in 2012, said he didn’t remember his office being tasked, as it was recently, with helping the village get on board.
“I’m not sure how this managed to fall through the cracks,” Cooper said. “It should have come through the finance department.”
Because the village’s agreement with the comptroller was so out of date, the village terminated it and on Jan. 11 trustees again voted to join the Local Debt Recovery Program with the expectation that it will be in place during this spring’s income tax season.
According to Cooper, the village is aiming to collect through the program some $52,000 in outstanding property maintenance violation fines and another $125,000 in water fees that are more than 120 days delinquent, including final water bills left unpaid when former residents left the village.
In addition, there are thousands in unpaid parking tickets that qualify for collection through the state program, and the village can seek to collect fines going back as far as seven years.
While the amount of revenue available to the village through the comptroller may be less in future years after collecting very old balances this year, Issakoo said using the program makes sense.
“We think it’s a good practice to be part of this program,” Issakoo said. “We need to make sure we have the revenue we need, and the Local Debt Recovery Program is a known quantity.”
The state provides a way for people to protest fines being sought through the comptroller’s program and funds the effort by charging a fee to those whose tax return checks are being docked.
The village uses a third-party collection agency to get people to pay their fines and late fees, but the company also takes a healthy cut of the proceeds—about 30 percent, according to Cooper.
The comptroller’s program can be a powerful way to collect hard-to-recover debts. North Riverside in the past three years has collected nearly $3.7 million through the program, much of it unpaid red-light camera violation fines.
In 2020, however, the comptroller discontinued the practice of collecting red-light camera fines, forcing the village to hire a private collection agency. Still, for fiscal year 2020-21, the North Riverside expects to collect an estimated $500,000 through the program.
Riverside, meanwhile, joined the comptroller’s program in mid-2019 as a way to collect unpaid parking tickets. After realizing just about $3,500 that first year, according to Finance Director Karin Johns, Riverside collected about $60,200 in 2020 through the program.