Opening day at Suffolk traffic bureau marred by glitches

People wait in line at the new Suffolk People wait in line at the new Suffolk County Traffic & Parking Violations Agency in Hauppauge. (April 1, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday Ed Betz

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Amanda Levine of Shirley showed up at Suffolk's new traffic violations bureau on its opening day Monday to pay a fine so her license would no longer be suspended.

However, after waiting on line for 45 minutes, Levine said clerks at the cashier window could not find an electronic record of her ticket, which dated back to 2010. Her husband, Daniel, fumed, "It's just not organized."

In the opening two hours, a line as long as 20 people snaked into the hallway from the room where there are six windows of clerks and cashiers. Part of the confusion was that some violations could not be handled by the new office in Hauppauge.

There were other glitches as well. Officials acknowledged that the metal detector was overly sensitive, forcing some visitors to remove their shoes needlessly.

However, by late morning, Paul Margiotta, the bureau's new director, had assigned two workers to assist people on lines. By noon, the lines had largely shrunk and the waits lasted only minutes.

"I didn't expect very many people and I was wrong," Margiotta said. "But eight out of 10 didn't belong here. After we got a handle on that, we could direct people where they needed to go."

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By day's end, Margiotta said 150 people showed up, 75 hearing dates were set and nine tickets were paid.

Margiotta said he only found out after opening that tickets issued before Jan. 1, to which a driver earlier had responded in some way -- which was the case with the Levines -- remain with the state. He said those tickets can only be handled online or by going to state traffic violation offices, the nearest of which is in Queens.

John Montesano, of Sayville, was there to fight a ticket his wife got for parking in a handicapped spot, and noted several support staff were behind each person at each window. "They seem a little confused," he said, "But you can't blame them; it's their first day. They'll work out the kinks."

Once the bureau is fully operational, Margiotta said about 80 percent of those who come in will first go to a 120-seat conference area, where there will be a half-dozen prosecutors to conduct plea discussions before an appearance before a hearing officer. He said the first hearings will start May 1.

Margiotta, the former acting county attorney, acknowledged that the metal detector near the entrance was "oversensitive." He said they later found that the wand used to scan visitors was picking up the metal beams under the floor. He said they put a rug down and the machine was recalibrated.

He also said their metal detector is more elaborate than the one used in the state office building. "But as a former court officer, it's the safest way to go," he said.

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