City Clerk Anna Valencia has been under fire for presiding over an overly-punitive city sticker enforcement system that has driven thousands of motorists into bankruptcy.

Valencia has openly acknowledged harsh penalties imposed after Mayor Rahm Emanuel raised sticker fees in his first budget went too far.

On Monday, the City Council’s Finance Committee moved to ease the burden on 500,000 delinquent motorists.

Wrapped into the revenue ordinance tied to Emanuel’s final budget is Valencia’s plan to create a four-month city sticker. That will give hard-pressed motorists the option of paying $29.28 three times a year, instead of nearly $90 in one lump sum.

“A lot of families live paycheck to paycheck. This is an option for a lot of people who want to be in compliance, but may not be able to afford a one-year or two-year city sticker. It breaks it down into three different payments that are manageable,” Valencia said.

At the same time, the city will offer a 31-day “forgiveness program” allowing scofflaws to get on the right side of the law, simply by purchasing a valid sticker.

Late fees and accumulated penalties will be waived for motorists now hit with a $200 ticket, a $60 late fee after 30 days and a “back charge for every day” they miss after that.

The four-month sticker will be sold from Aug. 1, 2019 through July 31, 2021. The amnesty will also begin sometime next year.

The revenue ordinance advanced Monday also empowers the city to “provide relief from older ticket debts and penalties to a person who successfully completes a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and a payment plan for recent vehicular debts.”

“If we are able to get ten percent of that population of about 500,000 folks we think are out of compliance, we’ll bring in $1.4 million in new revenue,” Valencia said.

Why limit the amnesty period to 31 days?

“We want to find that balance where people…have enough time to take off work or get to one of our offices or mobile locations, but also not take advantage of the system either,” the clerk said.

Over the next few months, Valencia said she would also take a fresh look at all of the fines and fees with an eye toward going even easier on beleaguered motorists.

“It’s good for government to reflect and make sure we’re not hurting any families unintentionally,” she said.

Those broader changes can’t come soon enough for Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), chairman of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus.

Chicago Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd)

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) supports the pending changes in the city’s vehicle sticker program. | Sun-Times file photo

“People would get a $100 ticket and that fine would double within weeks. What we need to do is scale it back down to … a 10 percent hike after a few weeks, so that people can pay this,” Waguespack said.

“Chicago’s system is set up to be punitive as opposed to inducing people to pay. If you’re working class or poor, that burden is heavier. We go after the boot. Your car gets taken away. And it makes it even more difficult for people to get to work. We can’t have people going bankrupt because they’re getting hit with excessive penalties.”

Earlier this year, a joint investigation by Pro Publica and WBEZ-FM Radio shined the spotlight on the punitive nature of sticker enforcement and racial disparities in the ticketing system.

The investigation disclosed: only one in three sticker tickets issued during 2016 were paid within a year; black neighborhoods were disproportionately targeted for sticker violations, with tickets issued by police driving the difference; and, sticker tickets issued to motorists in more affluent neighborhoods were more likely to be dismissed because those motorists were more likely to appeal.

After analyzing ticketing information since January, 2007, Pro Publica and WBEZ also pinpointed nearly 20,000 incidents when the same vehicle was slapped with multiple sticker tickets on the same day.

In addition to the revenue ordinance, the Finance Committee also approved Chicago’s $1.47 billion property tax levy for 2019.

That includes: $900.2 million for pensions; $426.9 million for city debt service; $36.5 million for City Colleges debt; and $110.5 million for libraries.

The levy captures additional revenue from growth in tax-increment finance (TIF) districts, as well as from new construction, according to Budget Director Samantha Fields.