Local Cities Using Tax Refunds to Collect Unpaid Bills - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

Local Cities Using Tax Refunds to Collect Unpaid Bills

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Some local cities are cracking down on unpaid bills by dipping into tax returns. Rock Falls, Illinois is using a state program to collect unpaid utility bills and Camanche, Iowa is also using a similar program.

City leaders in Rock Falls tell us they have more than $290,000 in unpaid utility bills. They say in the past they have used collection agencies, but they get a third of the take. With the program through the state comptrollers office, the city pays nothing. It gets its money from the state tax refunds of those who owe. City leaders say the program has only been up and running for a couple of weeks and they have already started to see money come in.

 Meanwhile, Camanche, Iowa is collecting unpaid utility bills through tax refunds as well. City leaders there are also considering using the program to collect unpaid ambulance fees. Fire Chief Dave Schutte says the city has more than $60,000 in unpaid fees. He says because the city does not use a collection agency, some people have just chosen not to pay.

"We send you three statements and that is basically the end of it," Schutte said.

"I think that leniency some people take advantage of that, most people don't, but some people do."

Schutte says it is beginning to add up.

"I was actually really shocked."

He says prior to 2009 the ambulance was funded by property taxes. However, three years ago that all changed and the city starting charging, using half of that revenue and half tax money, to fund the ambulance service. However, with all the unpaid bills, taxpayers are still picking up more than their fair share of the tab.

"Every dollar that is not collected is a dollar tax payers have to pay."

That's where the state "Offset Program", as it is called in Iowa, could be useful.

 "You don't want to take away anyone's tax return, but it's no different than any other bill. If you owe the money than the city should recoup that."

Schutte says there are programs in place for those who cannot afford their ambulance fees, like reduced rates or payment plans. He says the program is aimed at those who are simply not trying to pay.

"Our focus is on those that have the ability to pay that are not paying."

The city is already using the program for delinquent utility bills, but council members will meet next week to decide if they want to go ahead and use the program to collect unpaid ambulance fees as well.