Sold Your Corolla? Prove It.

Homewood residents called to account on 2,000-plus vehicles lacking village stickers

  Residents wait in line at Homewood Village Hall on
  Sept. 12 to buy vehicle stickers or prove they no
  longer own a vehicle.
(Photos by Carole Sharwarko/
  H-F Chronicle)
 
Hundreds of Homewood residents found themselves scrambling at the beginning of September, digging through drawers and driving around town to track down paperwork to prove a negative.
 
Steve Pesick traversed the universe of the Illinois Secretary of State, visiting the Chicago Heights location and then the special services office at 99th Street and King Drive in Chicago. Pesick was hot in pursuit of proof he no longer owned a 2001 silver Toyota Corolla.
 
Months earlier, in March, Pesick had received his annual notice from the Village of Homewood to buy vehicle stickers. It listed two cars, a 2009 Mazda he shares with his wife, Amy, and the Corolla, which he sold to their daughter in 2016.
 
  One Homewood resident
  who admitted not buying
  a sticker for her vehicle
  shows the letter she
  received from the village
  about the pre-hearing.

 
“We hadn’t received a notice for the Toyota in two years. I remember we went to a currency exchange and I signed the title to my daughter in March 2016,” Pesick said. “When I got the notice this year for the two cars, Amy went to get the sticker for the Mazda. She asked the woman at the window at village hall about the Corolla being listed when we no longer owned it, and she basically said, 'Don’t worry about it.'”
 
Another notice came in June, adding a $25 late fee onto the initial $30 charge and informing the Pesicks that they needed to buy a sticker or prove they didn’t own the Corolla. Pesick admits that he basically ignored the notice and threw it away. He just didn’t think it was a big deal.
 
“I didn’t think I was going to get a ticket. Then the Thursday or Friday before Labor Day weekend, we received a two-week summons, a notice to appear at village hall to prove we don’t own the car anymore,” Pesick said.
 
According to the summons, if he failed to appear with evidence, he was now subject to a “potential fine of $750” and a summons for an administrative hearing. Suddenly, Pesick realized this was more serious than he thought.
 
It turns out, Pesick wasn’t alone in his assumption that he could disregard the notices about a vehicle he no longer owned. This same reconciliation process took place for 2,554 vehicles that were registered with the Illinois Secretary of State to Homewood residents, but for which village stickers had not been purchased.  
 
“We find a lot of cars registered with the state that we don’t have record of having purchased a sticker,” said Homewood Village Manager Jim Marino. “This is not the first time we’ve done this; we’ve done it periodically in the past. We know our records get out-of-date, so we do this cross-check.”
 
Every vehicle registered to a resident of Homewood must display a village sticker, purchased each spring for a cost of $30 each. Common among suburban Chicago villages and towns, vehicle registration programs are one source of revenue available to municipalities.
 
According to Homewood finance director Dennis Bubenik, $376,942 has been collected during the 2018-19 vehicle registration, with 13,054 stickers sold. Revenue in the program is up $48,473 this year, Bubenik said.
 
Homewood officials usually initiate the vehicle registration reconciliation process every three years, Marino said. The last time the village did it was in 2013, which might be the reason many affected residents were unfamiliar with the process.
 
“We hadn’t gotten to it,” Marino said when asked why the process was so delayed. “We were overdue to cross-check our records.”
 
On Sept. 12 at Homewood Village Hall, Heather O’Malley stood in line with papers that proved she sold her car and that title was transferred to another person. Dozens of other residents were there with a similar purpose.
 
“If they have all of this in the system, why can’t they look it up and see that the title got transferred?” O’Malley said. “Just look up the VIN number and you can see that it’s not registered to me anymore.”
 
Several residents expressed needing to take time off work to gather the proper documents and attend one of the four pre-hearings on Sept. 12, 13, 14 or 15 to present their evidence.
 
“Keep in mind that this is five months after we started selling vehicle stickers,” Marino said. “They had five months to take care of it on a Saturday between 9 and noon when they wouldn’t have to miss work.”
 
Pesick drove his Mazda to village hall on Sept. 12 to clear up ownership of the Corolla, which his daughter junked “three used cars ago.” In the end, he said the process at village hall was simple and police personnel were organized and efficient. 
 
But getting to that point required a trip to the Chicago Heights Illinois Secretary of State location, two trips to the Chicago location and a faxed letter from the Springfield office.
 
This kind of added effort left many residents saying, “There’s got to be a better way.” However, Marino said this is currently the best practice the village has to clean up these discrepancies. Other municipalities conduct similar audits, he said.
 
“We’re not looking to cite people. That’s not our purpose. We just want compliance,” Marino said. “Our position is that it’s not fair that some people comply and others don’t. We hear complaints from residents that they have neighbors who bought a vehicle and didn’t buy a sticker, when they did. We’re equitable in that everyone who owns a vehicle in town has to purchase a sticker.”
 
Marino said the village did its best to notify residents of the upcoming procedures, including on social media (the Chronicle found two Facebook posts on May 29 and July 16, each with two likes) and in its email newsletter, in addition to the numerous mailed notices.
 
The notices were thorough and clear, Pesick said, and he commended the village’s diligence in its mailed communication. However, he said it could have been better about reaching out through social media, including on the popular Moms and Dads of Homewood-Flossmoor Facebook group, which has more than 7,000 members.
 
“I think the ladies that work in the office where you purchase your sticker need to be better informed,” Pesick said. “They don’t sell the stickers online, you have to go in and purchase them. If the village was going to do this and they knew it back in April, the office personnel should have had notices. Tell us, ‘Please follow through on this if you have a vehicle you no longer own. We’re going to have a hearing in September and you’ll have to appear. You’re going to get a notification letter.’”
 
According to Bubenik, about 1,000 vehicles remain unreconciled between the village and Secretary of State records, meaning those residents ignored the notices because they no longer own the vehicle or they refuse to purchase a sticker. Those cases now move to hearing stage, where residents must appear.
 
Marino said village officials and staff will conduct a debriefing to discuss how the process went and what they might change in the future.
 
“Well, the process can always go better.” Marino said. “We know it’s been a frustrating process for residents, and it’s been a little stressful for staff as well. They understand it can be frustrating for residents and tried to make the process as easy as possible.”
 
If you have a car that you sell, give to family or friends, donate or “total,” the best way to ensure your name is removed for the title is to complete the Application for Vehicle Transaction at the Illinois Secretary of State’s website.
 

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