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Parking tickets from 1990s holding up state tax refunds

Updated: April 2, 2012 9:47AM



Procrastination may not be such a bad word this year.

That’s because the state sent out about 23,000 notices last month informing taxpayers their refund would be used to pay for past due parking tickets, or red-light camera citations, or judgments.

More than half of the debtors do not live in Chicago, according to a spokesman for the city’s Revenue Department.

“They come to Chicago. They get a ticket and go back home. They actually owe the taxpayers in Chicago,” she said.

But the other half of debtors are likely people who just don’t have money.

Last month, when the Chicago City Council agreed to let the state act as its bill collector, several aldermen asked the city to send out final warning notices. That didn’t happen.

So some taxpayers were caught off guard, and like any new program, this one has some kinks.

On Tuesday, I wrote about Linda Jackson, a custodian employed by the city.

Her refund was erroneously held up because her son had unpaid parking tickets. Luckily for her, the public airing of the city’s mistake helped fix the problem in 24 hours.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for the city’s revenue department promised that Jackson would get the refund she is due in 10 days.

But the more I hear about how this new policy is being implemented, the more problematic it appears.

After reading about Jackson, Dustin Polo, 36, faxed me this heart-wrenching letter he sent to the city after the state notified him he would not get his tax refund.

“I don’t drive a fancy car or live in a big house or send my children to private schools,” wrote Polo. “I live from check to check, day by day, struggling to provide for my family and you want to take the little bit of money I have,” he said.

“If I would have been fairly warned, I would have taken the time to make some type of payment arrangement. Furthermore, I found some of the tickets that you have stolen my money for date back as far as 1997 when I was young and stupid.”

A reader from a western suburb was perplexed when she received a letter from the state informing her that $50 plus a $15 processing fee would be taken out of her state income tax refund. The parking ticket was from 1994.

“If certain crimes have a statute of limitations . . . how do they pursue an almost 20-year-old ticket?” asked Christine M in an email.

“And how come they didn’t attempt to contact me all these years?” she asked.

That’s a fair question.

Although the unpaid tickets that would trigger the state’s intervention were supposed to go back to 2005, the city found a way to collect on unpaid tickets from the 1990s.

The spokesman for the city’s revenue department claims that in order for the city to collect on tickets going that far back, “the final notice of determination” would have been received in 2005 or later.

“But really that’s a smaller number of incidents compared to the folks who are receiving these notices,” she said.

I doubt that most of us could produce proof that we paid a ticket from the ’90s. I know I couldn’t.

Polo also pointed out in his appeal to the city that he is a lifelong Chicagoan who has worked and paid his taxes since he was 19 years old.

“This is cruel and unfair. I strongly feel I have already paid these tickets and if I haven’t, I would hope to get a chance to work out something,” he pleaded.

“[You’re] taking everything from a hard-working taxpayer and it’s just wrong. That money was for food, shelter and those necessities needed to support my family,” said the father of two.

People who haven’t had to rob Peter to pay Paul aren’t going to have a lot of sympathy for scofflaws. And you could rationalize that having the city put a brick on one’s tax refund is better than having the city put a boot on one’s car.

Still, the city did a poor job collecting money it was owed for tickets in the first place. Now the mayor is looking for a quick fix.

But this doesn’t fix the problem.

This just allows the city to take a taxpayer’s money without proving a legitimate debt.



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