In our 11.08.11 post, we gave the City of Park Ridge an “F” in Outsourcing 101 because of how it totally dropped the ball in municipal fine collections by private vendor Duncan Solutions of Milwaukee, WI.
Back then, the City was carrying almost $1 million of uncollected fines, penalties and interest on its books. Three years later, it’s still almost $1 million. And reading the story in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge owed nearly $1 million in unpaid fines,” 10.28.14) makes City government look like a clown car, at least on this issue.
According the City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton, a big problem with the collection effort is that the City doesn’t have a “collection policy” for collecting unpaid fines. He claims such a policy is needed to “dictate how, when and why we write off tickets” – which write-offs totaled over $60,000 in just in 2012 alone.
Information in a 10.27.14 Memorandum from Michael Fricano to Hamilton indicates that those write-offs were of tickets that were issued from 2002 to 2007 and determined to be uncollectable, although the report fails to say exactly why they were uncollectable. Fricano’s memo contains a three-page “Collection Update” that suggests enough bureaucratic incompetence and futility from November 2011 through June 2014 that it could almost be the script for a Saturday Night Live skit titled “Diddle-Fest.” It actually made us laugh…but only because the only other alternative would be crying.
Frankly, based on that “Update,” somebody probably should be fired: either the somebodies at City Hall who have been wrangling this goat rodeo for almost 3 years, or Duncan Solutions. Maybe both. Because the taxpayers of this town deserve better than what the “Collection Update” discloses.
In the H-A story Hamilton is quoted as saying “[w]e definitely made some strides” in referring to the $51,000-plus in outstanding tickets the City has collected. But that was over the past two years..which means the City collected less than $26,000 a year against a $1 million outstanding balance!
And as if that were not lame enough, Hamilton appears to be bragging on the City’s already exceeding this FY’s ticket revenue budget by $300 – which might be justified if that budget wasn’t a measly $8,000!
If all you’re budgeting for ticket revenue is $8,000, why even bother?
City Council Finance chair, Ald. Dan Knight, correctly noted that uncollectible tickets (say from 2004 to 2010?) need to be identified and cleared off the books so that the City can focus on what’s collectible. One would think well-paid full-time City employees wouldn’t need to hear such advice from a $100/month part-time elected official, but apparently that’s not the case when it comes to collecting fines and making sure the City’s outsource fine collection vendor is earning its keep.
Frankly, the whole “Citation Process” for Duncan Solutions processing ticket collections reads like it was created by Rube Goldberg. It also seems likely to be using more staff time and effort than if everything was being done at City Hall, which is exactly what outsourcing shouldn’t do. Accordingly, it should be scrapped and its replacement designed to get any money owed the City in fees or fines within no more than 60 days, or 90 days if an “adjudication” is required.
For example, any City employee writing citations that are not legible, or have erroneous information on them that jeopardizes their enforceability, should be reprimanded and sanctioned so that we don’t end up a year or two into the process only to find out that the license number was wrong. Sending out “4th notice[s]” of any type seems ridiculous, and sounds positively absurd when they are being sent out “40 days after adjudication date.”
Similarly, if a fine or fee isn’t paid within a reasonable time (e.g., 14 or 28 days?), it should be doubled or tripled – not only so there is some real incentive for the perp to pay the fine, but also so the cost of processing and enforcement is fully covered without any doubt. And unless state law prohibits it, it should take a whole lot less than “10 or more outstanding tickets” before licenses are suspended. Like maybe 1 – if it has been outstanding for more than 3 months.
Otherwise, the process just invites people to become scofflaws while wasting staff time.
With the City buried in Uptown TIF debt, facing major flood control expenses, and struggling to hold annual tax increases to around 3%, just the idea that $1 million of fines and fees is being left uncollected is infuriating. And when we see just how bollixed up and neglected the whole process is – despite what was supposed to be a cost-effective outsourcing of ticket processing and collections that has turned out to be just the opposite – it becomes almost maddening.
It’s well past time for some butts to be kicked because of this fiasco.
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