Government

State declines to stop seizing income tax refunds to cover traffic camera debt

Speed cameras are shown atop a post on northbound Interstate 380 near Diagonal Drive SW in Cedar Rapids. A state agency this month declined to stop seizing income tax refunds to cover unpaid tickets issued by the cameras. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Speed cameras are shown atop a post on northbound Interstate 380 near Diagonal Drive SW in Cedar Rapids. A state agency this month declined to stop seizing income tax refunds to cover unpaid tickets issued by the cameras. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A state department is declining to stop seizing income tax refunds to cover unpaid speed and red light traffic camera tickets.

Janet Phipps, director of the Iowa Department of Administrative Services, earlier this month responded to a request for a declaratory order on the matter by saying state code precludes the department from issuing such an order. Even if it were not prohibited, she said, the department would refuse to under the guidance of Iowa’s administrative code.

Attorney Jim Larew, in a petition filed on behalf of eight motorists April 4, requested a ruling considering whether the department, which oversees the offset program, has the legal authority to collect the money; whether it wrongfully expanded its powers to include collection and forfeiture; and whether it wrongfully enriched itself.

He filed the petition after the Iowa Supreme Court declared the city of Cedar Rapids was wrongly finding people who did not pay automated camera tickets guilty by default — rather than taking them to court through a municipal infraction process.

Cedar Rapids is in the process of establishing a municipal infraction process.

Cedar Rapids contracts with Administrative Services to seize income tax refunds and other money from people with unpaid camera fines to settle the debt.

In many cases, the refunds being held have been significantly greater than the debt, and it can take weeks or months to release the rest of the refund, some in the program have said.

The agency keeps a 6 percent fee for its role.

The cities of Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Muscatine and Windsor Heights intervened in the petition.

In the response, Phipps noted the cities refused to consent to her department making a ruling and doing so without their consent would prejudice their rights.

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Furthermore, she wrote, litigation on the matter is pending in district court; a ruling may exceed the agency’s scope of authority; and the agency may have adverse positions on the questions from those who submitted it.

• Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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