CHICAGO — Chicagoans with older unpaid parking tickets, red light camera tickets and administrative hearing fines can finally catch a break on late fees and fines starting Sunday.
Facing a giant budget deficit and showing over $1.5 billion in unpaid fines from parking, red light tickets and fines for administrative citations like building code violations and drinking in public, Mayor Rahm Emanuel finally relented to calls for an amnesty program during recent budget hearings. The last amnesty was in early 2009 when Richard M. Daley was still in office.
From November 15 through December 31, the city will waive all taxes, administrative fines, penalties, interest and collection costs accrued on tickets issued before 2012.
For example, a parking ticket fine which has doubled and had interest and collection fees tacked on over the years, will be reduced to the original fine amount. With the way fees and fines add up, many people will see up to a 50 percent reduction in the amount of money they owe the city on longstanding tickets.
Unfortunately, only violations or fines from before December 31st, 2011 are eligible for the amnesty, and it only works if you pay it off in this six-week period.
Department of Finance spokesperson Molly Poppe explained that in the previous three amnesty programs, the most recent three to four years of tickets and fines were ineligible as well.
"It goes back to our previous amnesty programs," said Poppe. "There's precedence for going back three years and you really start getting into heavy collection fees [for tickets/fines] that are three to four years old."
When he first came into office, Emanuel had a firm position against such amnesty programs and publicly stated his intent for the city to collect the hundreds of millions of dollars in outstanding debt. But ticket debt has climbed steadily since, accruing at a pace of $1 million a week and now exceeds $1 billion in uncollected parking, red light camera and speed camera fines.
Vehicle immobilization for scofflaws on the city's boot list will still go on — but the next six weeks might be a good time to get booted, according to Poppe, as even booted drivers will be eligible for the reduced fines, fees and interest during the amnesty.
The city doesn't think it's going to substantially cut into the behemoth of ticket debt, but is hoping to to bring in an extra few million in the next six weeks.
"We don't have any specific estimates," said Poppe. "But the city brought in between seven to nine million in the previous three amnesties."
Vehicle owners already on a payment plan are not eligible for fee and fine discounts. In addition any tow fees, boot fees, storage fees, administrative fees or court costs cannot be discounted.
Also, drivers who want to get on a year-long payment plan cannot take advantage of the discounting unless they can finish payments by December 31, 2015.
Poppe said people need to move fast to take advantage of the amnesty offer during the six-week window as penalties, fees and interest will be restored on January 1, 2016.
"We want to give people a chance to pay what they owe," said Poppe. "We hope that individuals will take advantage [of the program]."
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