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Blackert: City collects $52,000 through debt program

About $270,000 still eligible; Sterling joins collection effort

ROCK FALLS – In January, Rock Falls joined a program to collect debt owed to the city by former residents, and the results have been good.

Through the Local Debt Recovery Program, the Illinois Comptroller's Office has collected $52,000 to date for Rock Falls, much of which came during a 3-day stretch during tax season, when $25,000 was collected from Illinois tax returns, City Manager Robin Blackert said.

When the city joined the program, the eligible debt was $290,000. Now, about $270,000 of eligible debt is available, she said. 

"Our goal with this was to find a way to collect the money so we don't have to do rate increases and have our good customers make up the difference for those that have left us with debt," Blackert said.

The Sterling City Council voted Monday night to join the program. As of Tuesday, Sterling has $94,000 of eligible debt the state can go after, said Cindy Von Holten, the city's director of financial services.

Debts from the previous 7 years are eligible for the program, including unpaid parking tickets, water and sewer bills, traffic fines, ordinance violation fines, housing fees, tuition or student fees, and fees imposed by the courts, according to the Illinois comptroller's website.

The state sends a written notice to the debtor, who then has 60 days to file a protest. If no protest is filed, funds from tax refunds, lottery payouts, commercial payments, and payroll checks, plus a $15 fee, will be deducted and sent to the municipality.

The majority of the the funds Rock Falls has received, Blackert said, has come from tax refunds. However, some still come from payroll checks and lottery winnings, she added.

Rock Falls is doing what it can to keep utility rates low. Earlier this month, Sauk Valley Media compared power bills between Rock Falls and Sterling and found that a Rock Falls resident spent nearly 30 percent more than a Sterling resident for about 900 kilowatts of electricity in a month.

Blackert said the debt collected through the state could help reduce rates, as could tripling the deposit for utility customers to $150 and limiting utility customers to deferring payments twice over 12 months.

The deposit increase took effect in January, and the limiting of deferred payments will take effect Sept. 1.

"We’ve had to put in a lot of changes," Blackert said. "This is helping – to get the debt that’s already owed."

To learn more

Go to www.IllinoisComptroller.com to learn more about the debt recovery program.

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