CHICAGO — Tens of thousands of Chicagoans came out of hiding to pay long-overdue tickets and city fines, adding $5.7 million to city coffers during the most recent amnesty program, according to the city’s Department of Finance.
Scofflaws with unpaid tickets and other debts took advantage of a six-week debt relief program, which temporarily returned all outstanding debt for tickets, business taxes and administrative fines to the original fine amount, minus late fees and collection costs. Those who took advantage during the Nov. 15 to Dec. 31 amnesty saw their debt go down by more than 50 percent in many cases.
Facing a huge budget deficit and with over $1.5 billion in uncollected parking, red light and speed camera tickets, Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed the amnesty during fall budget hearings.
Of the total collected amount, $5.3 million came from motorists paying old parking and red light camera tickets from before 2012. Another $340,000 came from unpaid administrative fines and about $14,000 from overdue business taxes, according to the finance department.
“The fact that over 90,000 parking and red light tickets got paid off — that's a success,” said Department of Finance spokesperson Molly Poppe. “We're happy with this number.”
Though the program ran for six weeks, about half the close to $6 million was collected during the last two weeks of the amnesty, she said.
While the city brought much-needed dollars into Chicago’s cash-poor pockets, this amnesty underperformed compared to two previous programs.
In late 2008 and early 2009, a ten-week amnesty produced $7.2 million which paid off nearly a quarter million tickets. While in 2002, scofflaws coughed up about $9 million in six weeks erasing 135,000 tickets from the city’s books.
“All those ticket amnesties had a different setup,” said Poppe, who added that the department is satisfied with the recent results. “They're all a little different so it's not an apples to apples comparison.”
With the program over, any other outstanding debt will revert back to the pre-amnesty amounts with all late fees and collection costs restored.
But beyond this, Poppe said the department has no other plans to get more aggressive in collecting the over $1.5 billion in outstanding ticket debt on Chicago's books.
“We're not looking to change things at this point,” says Poppe. “We're always looking to improve our scofflaw enforcement. It's something we'll continue to work on.”
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