JOLIET – Joliet plans to hire a law firm to collect unpaid parking tickets, which have mounted to $4.1 million, a city official said.
That total goes back many years, and it all may not be collectible, said Finance Director James Ghedotte.
"That's why we are hiring a firm so we can get a handle on how much we can collect," Ghedotte said.
Just in the last three years, the city is owed $707,000 in unpaid parking tickets, Ghedotte said. From 2014 through 2016, the city has been collecting a little less than half of the money owed on parking tickets.
The collection rate on false burglar alarms is even worse but does not involve as much money.
The city bills a resident or business after police are called out for a false burglar alarm a certain number of times.
The collection rate on those bills since 2014 has been as low as 8 percent in 2015. In 2016, the city collected on 12.5 percent of the bills. Total uncollected bills on false alarms are $115,300 in the last three years.
"The biggest problem we have is unpaid parking tickets," Meg McEvilly, the city's purchasing and contract administrator, told a city council committee last week.
McEvilly said water bills are not a big issue because the city can shut off water when those are not paid. But city staff believes a notice sent by a law firm may have more impact on people who don't pay parking tickets and other bills.
She made her comments to the Public Service Committee. The city council on Aug.1 gave staff approval to negotiate a contract with the firm of Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, which collects on money owed to the city of Chicago.
"They've done an excellent job for the city of Chicago," McEvilly said. "We feel they'll do an excellent job for the city of Joliet."
The firm also does collections for the state of Illinois, the cities of Waukegan and Springfield, and other municipalities in Illinois and other states, said Catherine Murray, a managing partner with Linebarger.
"We specialize in government collections," Murray said.
Linebarger has an office in Chicago, but the firm's principal office is in Austin, Texas, according to its website.
"They have a whole host of services that we just don't have right now available," McEvilly said.
Those services include the capacity to accept payments at any time while also being able to take payments by check, credit card or debit card, McEvilly said.
The city received eight proposals when it advertised for debt collection services and negotiated with three of those firms, she said.