Suffolk County plans to refund fees of up to $50 that thousands of drivers have paid for traffic offenses that were dismissed, the administration of County Executive Steve Bellone said yesterday.
Thomas Vaughan, an aide to Bellone, disclosed the refund plan yesterdayto the county Legislature's budget committee. Lawmakers then tabled a resolution by Legis. Thomas Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) calling for a comptroller audit of how much motorists in dismissed cases are owed in administrative fees, which range from $30 to $50.
Last month, Bellone agreed to support a bill by Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue), which is up for a vote next Tuesday, to drop the fee in dismissed cases going forward. The fees were imposed when a new traffic bureau opened in April. Bureau executive director Paul Margiotta, a Bellone appointee, had defended the fees, saying many of the motorists were guilty when tickets were issued.
Jon Schneider, deputy county executive, said the bill for the refunds "could be six figures," while legislative budget review officials have estimated that refunds for this year could total $364,000. Once the county determines the amount to be refunded, the administration will put forward a resolution with offsetting cuts or revenue to pay the cost.
Several legislators have called the administrative fees excessive and unfair, especially in cases involving broken taillights and other issues that by law are allowed to be remedied.
"If my bill had anything to do with the administration seeing the light, it's a good thing," Cilmi said later.
County officials say the traffic agency has handled 50,000 cases and so far has collected more than $10 million in fines.
Christina Capobianco, chief deputy comptroller, said her office is awaiting a letter from Chief Deputy County Executive Dennis Cohen asking the office to audit past fees. She said it will take several months to identify how much is owed and to whom.
Calarco said he was "a little surprised" that Bellone is backing refunds, but called it a "a good thing," if Bellone can find a way to pay for it. "Fifty dollars is a lot of money for many people, which is what made it such a big issue in the first place," Calarco said.