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Crystal Lake to offer residents discount on unpaid fines owed to the city

H. Rick Bamman – hbamman@shawmedia.com
Impounded vehicles sit in the Herrick Auto Rebuilders lot in Crystal Lake. The city is offering a one-time debt relief program from Oct. 2 to Dec. 15, which will make outstanding debt that is 90 days or more eligible for a 50 percent reduction of the total amount owed, including impound fines. One of the main purposes of this is to optimize the city's revenue and collection process while collecting debt in the shortest amount of time possible.
H. Rick Bamman – hbamman@shawmedia.com Impounded vehicles sit in the Herrick Auto Rebuilders lot in Crystal Lake. The city is offering a one-time debt relief program from Oct. 2 to Dec. 15, which will make outstanding debt that is 90 days or more eligible for a 50 percent reduction of the total amount owed, including impound fines. One of the main purposes of this is to optimize the city's revenue and collection process while collecting debt in the shortest amount of time possible.

CRYSTAL LAKE – Collection companies soon will be contacting residents who owe money to the city and offering a discount – and no, it’s not a scam.

The Crystal Lake City Council unanimously approved a one-time debt relief program Tuesday, which will run from Oct. 2 to Dec. 15 and offer residents a 50 percent discount on all outstanding debt owed to the city that is from
90 days or more. Fees that might be discounted include parking and drinking tickets, weed mowing, ambulance fees and adjudication fines for vehicle impounds.

Council members also unanimously approved amending the city code to allow the finance director to develop and implement policies and procedures relating to the collection of debt, which included a policy change for unpaid debt.

“We did something similar probably seven or eight years ago,” Finance Director George Koczwara said. “We do a pretty good job of collecting using [our] resources, but this is just an opportunity to enhance the collections and give individuals an opportunity to clear up their past due balances.”

Under the new policy, the city handles delinquent accounts in several ways depending on the total amount owed and how long an account has been delinquent.

If the amount due is less than $25 and not paid within 90 days, the account will be closed and written off.

If the amount due is greater than $25 and not paid within 90 days, the account will be turned over to a collection agency and remain open for another 90 days from the original due date of the final bill. If still unpaid, the account will be written off but remain in account history for possible future collection.

The city will put reasonable effort toward the collection or settlement of amounts owed that are more than $1,000, but the city manager can authorize canceling, writing off or modifying the account once efforts have been exhausted.

Debt owed to any city department in excess of $5,000 is legally enforceable and cannot be canceled, written off or modified without authorization from the City Council.

“We do a monthly report called an aging report,” Koczwara said. “In that, we track what’s due to us and our collection rate. … This is just an opportunity for us to clean up some of those aging accounts and really just move forward.”

Koczwara said the collection rate for parking tickets (87 percent) and ambulance fees (94 percent) is generally high, while collecting on adjudication fines from the city’s administrative court – such as weed mowing and public intoxication – are harder to collect.

He also said some debt remains uncollectible, such as when a homeless person is given a ticket.

Koczwara said parking tickets can get as high as $100, while adjudication fines sometimes can cost about $1,000 or more. He added that the city is owed about $35,000 annually from unpaid parking tickets, although he was not sure how much money in total is owed to the city.

“If anyone was hesitant to make a payment for any kind of debt they owe, this is an opportunity for them to make themselves whole in the city,” Koczwara said. “They will receive a notice from debt collection companies, but they’re always more than welcome to contact us and ask.”

Koczwara said residents who call to ask whether they owe money will not be forced to pay, and he encourages unsure residents to call the city at 815-459-2020.

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