By Dorothy Tucker and Carol Thompson, CBS News
When you owe Chicago money for parking or traffic tickets, you get hounded by notices and penalized by fines; but when the city owes you – silence.
CBS 2 Investigator Dorothy Tucker found the city is sitting on a big pot of your money worth millions and keeping you in the dark.
Tucker set out on a mission to do something the City of Chicago doesn’t. Let people know they’re due a refund.
The city owes Milan Radojcic and Eric Weddle $300 each. First Student bus company is owed $1,305.
Why are they due a refund? Because they all overpaid their ticket fines.
First Student overpaid a ticket when a school bus driver blew a red light on Canal Street in 2016.
Radojcic got nabbed by a red light camera at 87th and Vincennes in 2018.
Weddle forgot to renew his city sticker in 2016.
A woman named Akua — who we tried to find, but couldn’t — got a ticket for an expired meter on Ashland in 2012. She owed $122, but paid $1,212. Looks like the one-digit typo was a costly mistake. In a city where it’s easy to rack up tickets for everything from speeding camera and red light camera violations to expired meters, tow zones, and street cleaning bans, people like Weddle try hard to not upset the parking gods.
“I park on the street. I try to stay compliant with all the city rules, parking ordinances, licenses, tags, all that good stuff,” he said.
If he gets a ticket, he pays what he must to avoid a fine.
“Whatever they say I owe is what I pay,” said Weddle.
When asked about the city holding onto his money, Milan Radojcic said, “I don’t think it’s fair.”
He doesn’t remember overpaying, but after CBS 2 told him he did, he had a question.
“They don’t come forward with that information themselves?” he asked.
If you send the IRS too much money, Uncle Sam will automatically send you a refund check; but if you overpay your ticket, the city of Chicago keeps the cash.
“They expect me to pay a fine; then, if I overpay, I expect to be refunded. Do I get to charge them a fee?” Radojcic wondered.
Tucker got a ticket in 2008 when she parked in a school zone before 7:30 a.m. She paid the ticket twice. The city owes her $110.
Sure enough, there it is right on the city’s website. It’s Tucker’s ticket marked overpaid. When she saw that, she wondered how many others are owed money for overpaying fines.
CBS 2 asked for the numbers. We got back a report with thousands and thousands of ticket numbers, in all 55,728, dating back to 1990; people and businesses that have overpaid as little as penny, as much as $2,380.
The city has only repaid $252,947. It still owes Tucker and everyone else a combined total of $3,768,417.
Tucker went to the Payment Center in City Hall to find out how everyone can get their money back and why no one was ever notified. A clerk handed her the refund application and told her the instructions are on the first page. You fill it out, send it in, and wait for your money. The clerk said it could take a couple of weeks. The refund application, however, indicates the process could take 8 to 12 weeks.
When Tucker asked about not receiving a notice that she overpaid, the clerk told her the city only sends out notices if you owe the city money.
Why doesn’t the city send out overpayment notices?
That’s just one of the questions we’ve been asking city leaders for weeks. We also want to know where is the $3.7 million the city owes, and how much interest has the city earned on it?
When Tucker went to the Department of Finance she was told to wait. So, she did, for more than half an hour. It was just long enough to run into Armon Turner.
A few months ago, Turner was trying to clear up one red light ticket when a city representative told him he was owed $267. He was just as irritated as the rest of us that he never knew.
“If you owe the city, they want their money. Just like I want my money,” Turner said.
Just like we want answers, so we make more phone calls.
“It does seem unethical that the city would hold on to that money,” said Mike Brockway. He is a long-time critic of Chicago’s handling of tickets, often detailing his opposition on his website theexpiredmeter.com.
“Maybe there should be a law drafted in Springfield and passed to force municipalities to alert their citizens when there’s an overpayment to ensure they get a proper refund,” he suggested.
At the very least officials here should take a look at other cities like New York where overpayments are automatically flagged and drivers are issued refunds in 30 days.
But when Chicago finally sends your refund check, “Do I get to charge them interest? Do I get to charge them fees?” asked Radojcic.
The answer is no, according to the city that’s been holding onto your money for years.
A Department of Finance spokesperson finally explained that the $3.7 million is in the city’s operating fund. And, the Treasurer’s office told us it is earning interest. The interest rate for last year was 2.3%.
This article originally appeared on CBS News.