Joliet hires law firm to step up debt collection

JOLIET – The city has hired a nationwide law firm to help collect unpaid fines and fees that have been mounting in recent years.

Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson will join the city’s two other collectors in trying to recover unpaid parking fines, ambulance fees, water bills and other assorted fines and fees owed Joliet.

City officials previously have said that less than half of parking fines have been collected for the period between 2014 and 2016. The collection rate on ambulance bills was 4 percent in 2016.

Unpaid fines and fees are estimated at $2 million. (City staff at an August city council committee meeting incorrectly listed unpaid debt at $4.1 million, which was reported in a Herald-News story at the time.)

“We’re hoping to step up the collections,” Joliet Finance Director Jim Ghedotte said last week. “A lot of the problem is finding the people.”

The Linebarger firm’s national presence may make it more effective in tracking down people who have left Joliet, Ghedotte said.

At the same time, he said, Joliet hopes to incorporate more modern collection procedures. The city has employed two local collection agencies since 1980, Ghedotte said.

“We wanted to upgrade the contract,” he said. “There are a lot of processes for collection agencies that did not exist in 1980.”

The city will continue to employ Credit Discount and Audit and Central Adjustment Bureau to collect debt on accounts they now have.

New debt will be sent to the Linebarger firm, which is expected to start collections in March.

Linebarger has an office in Chicago, but its principal office is in Austin, Texas. The company has 46 offices nationwide with 31 of them being in Texas.

In Illinois, the firm does collections for Chicago, the state of Illinois, Springfield, Waukegan and other municipalities.

Linebarger will be paid 22 cents on every dollar it collects, according to a staff summary of the contract. The city has been paying 33 cents on the dollar for collection services.

The City Council in December approved a one-year contract with Linebarger.