City Starts Collecting Unpaid Fines By Seizing State Tax Refunds

CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago taxpayers are starting to get the bad news: no state income tax refund for you.

As CBS 2’s Kristyn Hartman reports, thousands could see their refunds disappear, because of unpaid city fines.

Glenn Popelka said he got a letter from the city about losing part of his tax refund over unpaid fines just two days after the City Council passed an ordinance authorizing the procedure.

“I’ve never known the city to move that quickly,” he said.

Neither has Mike Brockway, the publisher of “The Expired Meter” website.

“I think it’s kind of shocking how fast,” Brockway said. “Obviously, there’s an incentive that they want to get in before the tax filing deadline.”

Brockway said he learned that, just hours after the mayor signed an ordinance authorizing the city to collect unpaid fines by deducting the money from people’s state income tax refunds, the state comptroller’s office got a list of some 23,000 names.

If you are on that list, the state can withhold part or all of your tax refund to pay off unpaid fines from the city of Chicago. That includes parking tickets, or red light camera tickets. Anyone whose tax refund is withheld for unpaid fines can challenge the fines.

Popelka received a letter from the city informing him that $100 was being taken out of his tax refund over an unpaid ticket.

“It was a surprise. It was a letter saying that the city was claiming $100 out of my income tax refund from a ticket, it turns out, that was from October of 1993,” Popelka said.

He said he doesn’t remember getting the ticket, but said “this could be correct. … There’s just no way I can check, now. I don’t believe the city enough to take their word for it. They might be right, they might be wrong. They’ve been wrong in the past.”

Popelka said he has challenged tickets from the city in the past and, with check documentation, has won. But, he shredded his records from 1993 last summer.

“To reach back 18 years ago … they should have done something a long time ago,” Popelka said.

A city spokesperson told CBS 2 that only a small number of cases date back that far. People in those cases those should have received a final notice of determination about their unpaid fines sometime in 2005, the earliest year for which unpaid fines are eligible for collection through tax refund deductions.

Popelka said he doesn’t remember being notified of an unpaid fine in 2005.

“If this was brought up in a timely fashion, I could have looked through my canceled checks, and I could have determined whether or not I paid this ticket,” Popelka said. “I have no way of defending myself. That’s what concerns me.”

Popelka said he is going to issue a written challenge. He has 60 days to do so.

The state comptroller’s office said, so far, 60 other people have issued challenges to fines deducted from their tax refunds. City officials said there is due process here and, if a mistake was made, they’ll fix it. They said they already have in one case.

  • ed

    crooks! of course they moved fast, it’s money in the city’s pocket.. anything else concerning the betterment of the city is a 10-20 year plan!

  • tom sharp

    How about firing all the people working on this who “mistakenly” take money for tickets and fines that have already been paid! That should slow down their little greedy fingers a bit.

    • THEE Yard Ape

      What I want to know is how many city employees will “some how magically” escape being place on that list!!!!

  • hawkins

    Yup – crooks. Including the clerk behind the counter that ran off with my receipt showing that I had been sold the WRONG city sticker by an employee at city hall & then DENIED he had ever had it.

    • THEE Yard Ape

      Let me guess what species said employee was!!!!!

      • juju

        Speaking of species, I was trying to look you up in the dictionary, the closest name for your kind is “big-headed child molester who lives with his mother eating cheetos all day” or as I like to say dumassopotumus.

  • Seed

    I received a letter informing me that my state refund is being whthheld b/c of an unpaid ticket that was generatied by my ex-husband in 2009. I don’t know why I was “tagged” for this and not him. My name has never been on the registration of his car. I would like to know why they are coming after me and not him.

  • Roberta Waker

    I would challenge the authority of the CITY to take STATE money. What’s next, FEDERAL money? The City of Chicago has overstepped its bounds because this money isn’t paid to them; it’s paid to the STATE. Hope someone files a class action lawsuit because this just isn’t right. There must be other ways to collect this money.

    • Kendra

      I AGREE!! I told my husband that when the story first broke 2 weeks ago that the ordinance was passed. I don’t see how the City has the authority to take STATE money/taxes!

  • Ruth

    I wish the city would respond to other more important matters as fast as they do taking your money. Not right. Let people deal with the consequences of not paying a ticket.

    I wish they would repair potholes, street lights, pick up garbage in the same rush as withdrawing our income tax money. Shameful!

  • Jim

    The #1 Priority of IL and Chicago government is to take your money away from you…another win here!

  • Rea

    What if you do not live in the city of Chicago? Or even Cook County?
    There should be some way of protecting those from this that do not reside in Chicago

  • Another Motorist Says Chicago Is Wrongly Seizing His State Tax Refund « CBS Chicago

    […] Rojas recently learned he wasn’t getting his state income tax refund because of alleged unpaid tickets. The city early this year adopted the strategy of seizing refunds from scofflaws. […]

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