- Associated Press - Sunday, February 19, 2017

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A new lawsuit seeks to stop the city of Des Moines from garnishing the state income tax refunds to pay traffic camera violation fines.

The Des Moines Register reports (https://dmreg.co/2m9HbKd ) that the city has seized refunds for such fines for three years. Attorney Jim Larew, of Iowa City, said in the lawsuit filed last week that officials are misusing the program.

Jason Fett, of Guthrie Center, is one of the plaintiffs. He said Des Moines sent him a notice in December threatening to seize part of his return if his fine wasn’t paid by Jan. 13.

But Fett said he successfully challenged the citation in Polk County District Court in May 2015.

“I was surprised they are able to do something like that,” Fett said. “Do I think it’s right? No. They are seizing money from our tax returns.”

The lawsuit asks for the practice to be stopped immediately and for the court to declare it illegal.

Another plaintiff, Francis Livingood of Postville, said he also was surprised to receive a notice late last year that Des Moines planned to withhold his income tax refund if he didn’t pay a past-due fine.

Livingood said he thought the fine had been dismissed after he challenged the city over the citation.

City officials didn’t immediately respond to the newspaper’s questions about the lawsuit, and the city hasn’t yet responded formally to the suit.

State officials say Des Moines is one of more than 500 Iowa entities that use the state income tax refund withholding program. The state Department of Administrative Services oversees the program that includes cities, fire departments, community colleges, universities, utilities and agencies.

Use of the program has expanded significantly in recent years. In the fiscal year that ended in 2006 the program collected $18 million in debt owed by Iowans. In the fiscal year that ended in 2015, more than $47 million was collected by the program.

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, https://www.desmoinesregister.com


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