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City of Rockford owed more than $700,000 of unpaid parking tickets

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — Last year 14,408 parking tickets were issued in the City of Rockford. At the end of 2019 more than 6,500 tickets remained unpaid to Rockford totaling more than $700,000 in money owed to the city.

While Rockford recorded the fewest number of parking tickets in 2019 compared to the last five years, it also saw the highest number of unpaid tickets.

Above is parking ticket data 13 WREX acquired through a Freedom of Information Act Request with the City of Rockford.

"You're always paying off and adding on," says City of Rockford Finance Director Carrie Hagerty. "That 700,000 number is a fairly rolling number we maintain. It's accumulative over time."

Hagerty says money from parking tickets is solely used to fund parking services. It's something called an enterprise fund and is set up to hopefully keep parking services self sufficient.

Hagerty says the city's debt is due to the limited ways it can capture these funds.

"There's a program in the state called I-Drop," says Hagerty. "That allows city debt to be placed with the state and withheld from things like tax rebates or state payroll."

Hagerty says the most aggressive tactic that's used the least often is booting a car.

"We boot them and then it's unusable. They're pretty effective. Every once in awhile we'll have someone come and say it isn't worth much more than I owe in tickets, just take the car."

The city says sometimes the cost of going after the unpaid ticket isn't worth what's owed.

"You get so far along in time or it's someone who was in town from Arizona," says Hagerty. "Our ability to find and collect on that person out of state is more challenging."

Hagerty says another challenge facing the city is the amount of low income residents it serves.

"We think a lot of time people aren't paying these because they don't have the money. So we try to be sensitive about the economics of our community. But also believe these are debts owed to the city and when people don't pay those parking tickets it's money that has to be made up somewhere else."

Here are the highest current debts owed to the city of Rockford:

Tickets from six individuals totaling nearly $30,000 in debt. So if people aren't paying why have a parking ticket system? Hagerty says it's an effort to encourage traffic and shoppers downtown by ensuring open spaces for visitors.

"The business owners get complaints parking is inconvenient for them because spots aren't turning over," says Hagerty. " Part of our effort downtown is to be a good business partner to downtown business owners and to meet their needs for available parking for their businesses."

Wired Cafe owner Crystal Douglas says parking has always been an issue downtown.

"I have a lot of customers that are just collecting tickets."

Douglas says many of her customers come in for meetings or to study and constantly have to go out and find new parking spots. She worries the timed spaces don't allow shoppers the flexibility to visit all the spots they'd like to, potentially cutting their visit short.

"People aren't going to take the time and meander down the side streets if they're constantly checking their watch to change their car."

While Douglas says she doesn't have a perfect solution she believes there could be a better system out there, for example longer parking zones.

"I would like to see the city listen to us a little more."

City staffers say figuring out a better parking formula is always on the table and something it's constantly analyzing.

"There's a policy discussion there of how aggressive should we be," says Hagerty. "How should we treat the people who owe the city money? There's also operational discussions? How can we make this more effective? How can we make it easy for people to pay these bills?"

Hagerty adds ABM does not get any additional money for the tickets its workers write and there is no incentive for them to write more or less tickets.

Mary Sugden

Mary Sugden is the Investigative Reporter at WREX. She joined the team in December 2014 as the evening producer. In 2015 she made the move to evening reporter before joining the 13 Investigates team in May of 2018.

She grew up in Woodstock, Illinois and graduated from Woodstock High School in 2009. Mary graduated with a degree in Journalism and Marketing from Loyola University Chicago in 2013.

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