CEDAR RAPIDS — Motorists with unpaid tickets from Cedar Rapids’ automated speed or red light cameras have begun receiving notices this week saying their state income tax refunds are being withheld.
Tawnya Stoneking, 40, of Tipton, learned the $1,600 the state owes her is being held by the state-run offset program because she owes Cedar Rapids $93, she said.
The offset program uses money the state owes people, such as income tax refunds, gambling or lottery winnings, or vendor payments, to pay off debt owed to participating public entities.
“To wait for months for a $1,500 or $2,000 refund over a ticket that is worth less than $100, that’s shameful,” Stoneking said during a telephone interview Wednesday, noting she was advised not to expect her refund for at minimum six to eight weeks.
She wants the law changed to limit the offset withholding to the amount due.
Stoneking had another issue.
Some 221,000 notices were sent out around Christmas to give motorists a chance to pay their unpaid tickets before accruing a 25 percent late fee and before being turned over to the offset program.
Such a notice was sent to Stoneking, except it was mailed to the address where she lived in 2011 when she initially received the ticket. She moved in 2013, she said.
After going through the offset process last year because of her husband’s unpaid ticket in Muscatine, which withheld their refund for three months, she said she would have paid her ticket this year — had she known.
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“I feel they didn’t do their due diligence,” she said. “I’m frustrated.”
Jason Arends, 40, of Cedar Rapids, also received a notice his $900 refund was being withheld over two $93 in traffic camera fines, apparently stemming from 2012.
The notice directs people to review information about their debt at the city’s offset website. But when Arends looked, he found no record of the original citation, and when he called a provided number, the people there could not produce it either, he said.
Similarly, the website failed to produce Stoneking’s case, she said.
“It’s the scummiest move I’ve ever seen,” Arends said.
Officials from the offset program did not respond to questions seeking comment.
Cedar Rapids turned 70,809 “debtors” over to the state offset program, which accounts for the majority of the 221,000 notices, Cedar Rapids Finance Director Casey Drew said by email. The notices represent $17 million worth of unpaid tickets dating back to 2010. Only 4,800 people paid the amount after receiving notices in December, officials said.
“Any unpaid violation for which we had a valid Social Security number was placed into the offset program,” Drew said.
The city plans to continue to seek collections from those who were not turned over to the offset program and hadn’t paid the debt, he said.
At this point, people who’ve received notice of a withholding should not pay their citation to the city because it will result in a duplicate payment, and they cannot stop the offset at this point, Drew said.
Recipients have 15 days to appeal being turned over to the offset program and/or the amount of stated debt, but the validity of the ticket is no longer subject to challenge because recipients had that opportunity at the time the citation was originally issued, according to a mailing the city sent people submitted to the offset program. Appeals can be sent to Cedar-Rapids.org/offset.
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Recipients can challenge the validity of the offset program itself by sending notice within 15 days to Legal Counsel, Iowa Department of Administrative Services, Hoover State Office Building, Des Moines, Iowa 50319.
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