City forgives $11.5M in debt during first 3 months of city sticker relief program

More than 11,400 Chicago motorists were cleared of past city sticker tickets.

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City Clerk Anna Valencia and Mayor Lori Lightfoot discuss changes in ticketing and penalties after a Chicago City Council meeting in 2019.

City Clerk Anna Valencia and Mayor Lori Lightfoot discuss changes in ticketing and penalties after a September Chicago City Council meeting.

Fran Spielman/Sun-Times file

Thousands of Chicagoans saved more than $11.5 million by taking advantage of new city sticker amnesty and debt relief programs during the first three months of the initiative, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office said Tuesday.

The city launched the debt forgiveness program for sticker scofflaws in October, allowing residents who’d racked up hefty late fees to buy a new city sticker without being hit with the back charges.

Nearly 9,000 drivers did just that to get into compliance, a ninefold increase over the previous year, according to the mayor’s office. In all, almost 11,400 residents were absolved of more than $11.5 million in outstanding ticket debt.

“These initial results from the City Sticker forgiveness initiatives prove that when the deck is not stacked against Chicagoans and they are given a realistic, accessible pathway to compliance, they will take it,” Lightfoot said in a statement.

Fines for not having a city sticker were hiked from $120 to $200 in 2012. City sticker ticket debt, compounded by late penalties and collection fees, swelled to about $275 million over the next six years, according to an investigation by ProPublica Illinois and WBEZ.

Overhauling that regressive system was a key campaign promise made by the freshman mayor.

But before approving Lightfoot’s plan in September, some aldermen expressed concern over the loss of an estimated $15 million in city revenue by reducing fines, expanding payments plans and stopping drivers’ license suspensions for non-moving violations.

Lightfoot has called the plan a “first but important step to unwinding the city’s addiction to fines and fees on the backs of low-income people.”

In 2017, fines and penalties — ranging from parking, red light and speed camera tickets to building code violations — raked in $344.9 million, or about 9% of all city revenue. Vehicle tickets alone now rake in more than $260 million.

The mayor’s office says other big cities like San Francisco and Phoenix have actually seen revenue increases revising their systems of fees and fines.

For more information on city payment plans and debt forgiveness, visit www.chicago.gov/newstartchicago.

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