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City Starts Collecting Unpaid Fines By Seizing State Tax Refunds

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chicago taxpayers are starting to get the bad news: no state income tax refund for you.

As CBS 2's Kristyn Hartman reports, thousands could see their refunds disappear, because of unpaid city fines.

Glenn Popelka said he got a letter from the city about losing part of his tax refund over unpaid fines just two days after the City Council passed an ordinance authorizing the procedure.

"I've never known the city to move that quickly," he said.

Neither has Mike Brockway, the publisher of "The Expired Meter" website.

"I think it's kind of shocking how fast," Brockway said. "Obviously, there's an incentive that they want to get in before the tax filing deadline."

Brockway said he learned that, just hours after the mayor signed an ordinance authorizing the city to collect unpaid fines by deducting the money from people's state income tax refunds, the state comptroller's office got a list of some 23,000 names.

If you are on that list, the state can withhold part or all of your tax refund to pay off unpaid fines from the city of Chicago. That includes parking tickets, or red light camera tickets. Anyone whose tax refund is withheld for unpaid fines can challenge the fines.

Popelka received a letter from the city informing him that $100 was being taken out of his tax refund over an unpaid ticket.

"It was a surprise. It was a letter saying that the city was claiming $100 out of my income tax refund from a ticket, it turns out, that was from October of 1993," Popelka said.

He said he doesn't remember getting the ticket, but said "this could be correct. … There's just no way I can check, now. I don't believe the city enough to take their word for it. They might be right, they might be wrong. They've been wrong in the past."

Popelka said he has challenged tickets from the city in the past and, with check documentation, has won. But, he shredded his records from 1993 last summer.

"To reach back 18 years ago ... they should have done something a long time ago," Popelka said.

A city spokesperson told CBS 2 that only a small number of cases date back that far. People in those cases those should have received a final notice of determination about their unpaid fines sometime in 2005, the earliest year for which unpaid fines are eligible for collection through tax refund deductions.

Popelka said he doesn't remember being notified of an unpaid fine in 2005.

"If this was brought up in a timely fashion, I could have looked through my canceled checks, and I could have determined whether or not I paid this ticket," Popelka said. "I have no way of defending myself. That's what concerns me."

Popelka said he is going to issue a written challenge. He has 60 days to do so.

The state comptroller's office said, so far, 60 other people have issued challenges to fines deducted from their tax refunds. City officials said there is due process here and, if a mistake was made, they'll fix it. They said they already have in one case.

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