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City plans another ‘convenience fee’

Despite complaints about charging residents extra to renew their city stickers online, city officials plan to impose a similar "convenience fee" for online payment of parking tickets.

The fee is part of a plan to outsource most of the city’s parking ticket collection efforts to Duncan Solutions, Inc.

Duncan says it will guarantee that the city will recover its $188,212 annual fee from increased parking ticket payments during the first year of the three year deal.

Aldermen Monday night held up approval of the contract, seeking to extend the guarantee across the full contract term.

But despite complaints two aldermen, the full City Council did not direct staff to eliminate the online payment surcharge from the plan.

"This business of charging people extra" for online payments "doesn’t make any sense," Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said.

And Alderman Cheryl Wollin, 1st Ward, said, "People should be able to pay online without an extra charge."

City Collections Manager Kevin Lookis said the fee just passes along the fee charged to Duncan by credit card processing companies.

But Rainey said, "I think it leaves a bad taste. People buy a lot of things online and are not charged extra."

Many businesses have concluded that the reduced need for manual processing with online payment systems covers the cost of the credit card processing charge.

For parking tickets the fee is projected to range from $1 to $3, depending on the dollar amount of the ticket.

In a memo, the city’s transportation director, John Burke, said the outsourcing plan would immediately save the city over $625,000 by avoiding the need to replace its ten-year-old citation payment software.

The city now collects $3.2 million a year in parking ticket revenue, but collects on only about 78 percent of the 140,000 tickets it issues.

Duncan claims to average a collection rate of 85 percent in cities like Evanston because, with its nationwide reach, it has better ability to collect from out-of-town ticket scofflaws.

City officials also hope Duncan will be able to whittle down a $2.5 million backlog of unpaid tickets going back to 2000.

City officials say they don’t plan to reduce staffing in the city’s parking division, at least during the first year of the contract, while they see how well the new system performs.

But, while the city is struggling with a multi-million dollar structural budget deficit, Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, cautioned against trying to achieve job reductions through the outsourcing plan.

"These people live here and reinvest in this community," Jean-Baptiste said.

But Lookis said that given continuing changes in city programs, it’s more likely that any worker ultimately affected by the program would be reassigned rather than dismissed.

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