After operating without a debt collection agency for over a year, the Forest Park Village Council voted 5-0 June 10 to hire Municipal Collection Services Inc. (MCSI) of Palos Heights to collect fees from overdue traffic tickets and other outstanding fines.
In addition to overdue traffic tickets, MCSI will collect unpaid parking citations, vehicle sticker citations, past due utility billing accounts, ordinance violation fines and other miscellaneous debts.
Under terms of the three-year contract, MCSI will be paid a percentage of any overdue fines or fees that the firm collects.
MCSI was one of four firms considered by the village, according to Village Administrator Tim Gillian. Also considered were Armor Systems Corp., ICS Collection Service Inc. and Sonnenschein Financial Services.
Gillian explained that the village is already using MCSI for similar services in the police and building departments, which he called “a big plus” in making the decision, but noted that MCSI’s proposal also offered the lowest rates. For the police department, MCSI provides software for the vehicle sticker and parking processes and, for the building department, for permits and general record-keeping, according to Gillian.
He also noted that MCSI previously provided debt collection services for Forest Park but the relationship between the firm and the village predates his tenure.
Mayor Rory Hoskins also cited MCSI’s “unique understanding of Forest Park’s systems” as a factor in making the decision.
“It’s important for a village like us to have a collection agency,” he explained. “We’re leaving money on the table.”
When asked if he could estimate how much money was being left on the table, Hoskins said, “It’s hard to say. Probably hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Commissioners Ryan Nero thanked the Village Council and Gillian for “moving quickly” on the collection agency contract.
“I know it’s something that’s been discussed not only throughout the campaign process but certainly for the past year or so,” said Nero, who did not physically attend the meeting but participated by telephone.
“Let’s get started,” Commissioner Dan Novak said.
The village has not had a collection agency since early 2018, when it ended its relationship with Genesis Business Group. The firm served as the village’s collection agency for at least five years.
Gillian said in January that the village had “parted ways” with Genesis Business Group because village officials “just didn’t feel they were giving us the service we needed.”
In February, Commissioner Joseph Byrnes estimated the village had traffic tickets from October 2017 that it has not collected on.
The matter came to light in January during a presentation by Crowe Horwath, the village’s auditors, to the Village Council. According to the audit for fiscal year 2018, fine revenue was budgeted at $1,330,000 but actual revenue was $972,811.
Leticia Olmsted, village finance director, then cited the pending change to a new collection agency as a contributing factor to the fine shortfall. Fiscal year 2018 stretched from May 1, 2017 to April 30, 2018.
In addition, the village reportedly missed a second opportunity to collect fees from overdue traffic tickets.
When overdue traffic tickets are not collected, the village must alert the Illinois Comptroller’s Office in order to participate in the comptroller’s Local Debt Recovery Program, which deducts unpaid municipal fines from state income tax refunds.
The village reportedly missed the deadline to report violators to the state for the last two years.
Gillian said the amounts collected varied annually but were in a range of between $100,000 and $200,000.
In addition to collecting fees from overdue traffic tickets and other overdue fines moving forward, Hoskins said MCSI also will address the backlog.