Emanuel says 'free ride' over

October 5, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Announcing that there will be no more "free rides," Emanuel said the city has aggressive plans to step up the collection of fees and fines from everyone.

Wednesday, the Chicago City Council was debating a plan aimed at cracking down on people who owe money. It's being called a debt recovery plan, and it includes everything from parking tickets to business fines.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the proposal earlier this week, saying it would help close the city's budget gap.

However, some residents say they believe the plan goes too far.

Not many people were in line at the city collections counter Wednesday morning, but if you have an outstanding parking ticket or if you run a business that owes fees or fines, you'd better watch out. The mayor says it's time to pay up.

"If you owe a parking ticket, you owe a bill. You have to pay. That's true, first of all, for anybody. The free ride is over for everybody," Emanuel said.

The mayor says the new aggressive approach by his office and the city comptroller will help recover $33 million in debt.

"Businesses, I heard they could suspend their licenses if they don't pay up. As far as residents are concerned, they should go after them to the full extent, because if they break the law, they should pay like everybody else," said Chicago resident Frank Andreou.

The City of Chicago is more than $600 million in the hole.

Emanuel's office estimates that improving tax audits could net $24 million, and setting up debt consolidation plans with individuals who owe fines and fees could raise $5 million. Going after banks for fees and fines on vacant and foreclosed properties could raise $2 million. Collecting unpaid parking fees could bring in $1 million, and better enforcement of building permits and licenses could net another $1 million.

But not everyone is convinced it will work.

"It's going to be a hard task, because a lot of people, you know, losing their jobs and don't have the money. So, what do you expect the people to do? If they don't have the money, how are they going to pay the tickets?" Chicago resident Tawanda Murray said.

Tuesday, the mayor announced he was cracking down on city workers who owe more than $3 million in past due fines and fees. He says city workers will be notified that they will have to either pay up or face suspension and termination.

The city comptroller talked to ABC7 Chicago about all of the efforts to rake in the money.

"We have lots of authority under the law to already use collection agencies and law firms. But really, this is a management tool to make sure that we are consolidating all of the activities of collection and billing under the Department of Finance and Revenue, which I lead, and that we're doing it in an efficient way that targets the folks and corporations that owe the most," Comptroller Amer Ahmad.

The city says one scofflaw owes $87,000 in parking tickets, and a car rental company owes $300,000.

The question is, will the city be able to collect that money from the people who owe?

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