Morton Grove, comptroller team up to collect old debts
Peter Falcone, assistant to the administrator at Morton Grove Village Hall on January 7, 2012. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 11, 2013 6:22AM
MORTON GROVE — The village of Morton Grove, with help from the Illinois Comptroller’s Office, is trying to collect what officials say could be more than $2 million in unpaid parking tickets, fines and other debts.
The Comptroller’s Local Debt Recovery Program allows villages, school districts and other governmental bodies to collect outstanding debts. Under the program, which is in the final stages of testing, money can be withheld from such things as state income-tax refunds and the salaries of state workers to pay the outstanding debt.
Peter Falcone, Morton Grove’s assistant to the village administrator who is setting up the program, said that while residents and local businesses are not exempt from the program, it likely will have its biggest impact on people who do not live in Morton Grove, but owe money to the village.
Possible debts include such things as parking tickets, building department fines and unpaid ambulance fees.
Falcone estimated that the village is owed $1.7 million in fines from the Police Department, $450,000 in outstanding Building Department citations and $200,000 in ambulance fees.
“This is not just Morton Grove residents,” Falcone added. “It’s primarily people who owe the village money and don’t live in the village. If they don’t live in the village we have a terrible time collecting the debt.”
Falcone said that in the past the village has used a collection agency to try and recover debts. But even when the agency was successful, it kept one-third of the payment.
Under the new state program the village receives all of the money owed. The debtor is also charged a $15 administrative fee that is kept by the state.
Mayor Dan Staackmann said that while some people who are targeted by the program may be upset, it is only fair that they pay what they owe the village.
“If you owe money you ought to pay it back. That’s a basic thing,” Staackmann said. “People legitimately owe us the money and this is a legal way to collect it.”
Falcone is compiling a scofflaw list using village records of unpaid debts going back seven years. At some point, he said, the program could be expanded to look at previous years, but for now the state is putting a limit on it.
Falcone noted that only debts at least six months old will be included on the list. Also, the minimum debt for inclusion on the list is $10, he said.
A searchable database of people on the list will be put on the village’s website, probably later this month. Falcone said anyone can check to see if they owe money to the village and take care of the issue before being contacted by the Comptroller’s Office.
“We don’t want to blindside our residents and business owners,” he said.
Falcone said the Comptroller’s Office will send out letters to anyone who owes Morton Grove money and will also take the money from the person’s tax refund or other source and put it into a special fund.
The person targeted for collection will have 60 days to respond either to the village or Comptroller’s Office.
“If they have proof that it is paid, I can get rid of that on the spot,” Falcone said.
If the debt is legitimate, the money held by the state will be turned over to Morton Grove at the end of the 60-day period.
Falcone said that he anticipates most of the debts that show up in the village’s system will be valid.
“If there’s data in our system I’m 99 percent positive it’s a valid debt,” he said.
Each $90,000 to $100,000 collected is equivalent to a 1-percent increase in property taxes, Falcone said.
“It’s difficult times for our residents and businesses,” Falcone added. “It’s difficult times for the village itself.”