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Los Angeles to have its own bill collector

City Council creates the post of inspector general of collections in hope of reaping some of the estimated $541 million owed to the city of Los Angeles in uncollected debt.

May 25, 2011|By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times
  • "Whoever we pick, it has to be someone who is willing to be gutsy and willing to make enemies," said City Councilman Paul Koretz.
"Whoever we pick, it has to be someone who is willing to be gutsy and… (David Livingston, Getty…)

Hoping to put a dent in the estimated $541 million owed to the city in uncollected debt, the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday voted to create an inspector general of collections.

The person appointed to the post will oversee the recovery of unpaid bills and tickets across city departments, according to officials, who described the inspector general's role as a "debt collection sheriff."

"Whoever we pick, it has to be someone who is willing to be gutsy and willing to make enemies in City Hall, because they're going to have to call people on their lack of action," said City Councilman Paul Koretz.

The dismal debt-collection efforts of several city departments has been in the spotlight recently.

Last year a city commission found that the Los Angeles Fire Department is owed about $248 million, mostly for unpaid ambulance bills. It found that the Department of Transportation is owed about $213 million, mostly from unpaid parking tickets.

The Commission on Revenue Efficiency, which was formed by the council last year, also reported that many departments do not charge interest or late fees.

It also found that about half of the $541 million owed to the city is largely uncollectible, in part because much of it is from bills that are more than two years past due.

One of the inspector general's biggest tasks will be identifying which debts are collectible and which are uncollectible "phantom debts" that should be written off, said the commission's chairman, Ron Galperin.

The inspector general will work in the city administrative office and will report back regularly to the council.

Officials expect to fill the position — which comes with an annual salary of $150,000 — with an existing city employee, hopefully by June, said Council President Eric Garcetti.

"Today we are not looking at creating a new bureaucracy," Garcetti said. "We are looking at how do we cut through bureaucracy and streamline and make efficient our collections."

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

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