FOREST CITY | In an effort to recoup outstanding city bills from residents, the Forest City Council has implemented a new program.

On Monday, Oct. 16, the city council voted to start the Iowa Income Offset Program to collect unpaid utility bills, nuisance abatements and other monies owed to the city at the recommendation of Forest City Administrator/Clerk Barb Smith.

“It’s something we had done in the previous community I worked in and it needed to get set up here to recapture some of the debt,” she said.

Smith said if the city has the social security of a resident — past or present — on file, it can send the unpaid bills to the State of Iowa, where it will withhold part of an individuals’ state tax refund, Iowa lottery winnings and others.

“We could go back as far as we like [to collect unpaid bills],” she said, noting it’ll start with the 2017 tax return season.

Forest City is among more than 500 entities currently participating in the program, according to the Iowa Department of Administrative Services.

The Offset Program, which began in the Iowa Department of Revenue and Finance in the early 1970s to collect money owed to the state by holding income tax refunds, has expanded over the years to include other sources of revenue and other branches of government.

In 2006, the Iowa Department of Administrative Services made the program available to interested cities, counties, municipal utilities or community colleges, and it again, expanded in 2009 by including Iowa casinos in the program.

According to the state data, the department has successfully recovered more than $220 million in unpaid debt within the past five years, and even more since its implementation.

When asked how much the city is owed, Smith said there are “always outstanding utility bills,” adding that sending them to collection agencies doesn’t always result in recovery and costs the city additional money.

The Offset Program, she said, is an “easier way” to collect outstanding debt.

Because the state will charge $7.50 for collection, the city has decided to add a $25 administrative fee to the bill owed, per invoice submitted.

For questions about the program, call Forest City Hall at 641-585-3574.

Reach Reporter Ashley Stewart at 641-421-0533. Follow her on Twitter at GGastewart.

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