Motorists in Suffolk County will no longer pay a $50 administrative fee if they're found not guilty of traffic infractions.
The county legislature Tuesday unanimously approved a bill that bars the new Traffic & Parking Violations Agency from charging the fee in the majority of cases that are dismissed -- an issue that had become a sore spot with many residents and lawmakers.
"To make those folks pay, I just didn't think it was fair," said Legis. Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue), the bill's sponsor.
Since Suffolk opened its own traffic agency in April, allowing it to keep more of the ticket revenue it had been sending to New York State, it has handled more than 50,000 cases and collected more than $10 million in fines.
Nearly $500,000 of the total came from fees on dismissed tickets, officials said. In a common instance, motorists who were cited for broken taillights, but who had their tickets dismissed after making repairs according to the guidelines of state law, still had to pay a $50 fee. Aides to County Executive Steve Bellone previously defended the fees, saying such tickets were responsible for clerical costs even if the motorists were not guilty.
But after complaints from the public and county lawmakers, Bellone backed Calarco's bill, and said he would issue refunds to the thousands of drivers who have already paid the fees after dismissals.
Legislative budget analysts have said fee refunds for 2013 could approach $400,000.
The bill passed Tuesday also increases the fee for motorists found guilty to $55 as a way of recouping lost revenue.
In other action, the legislature unanimously approved an eight-year contract between Suffolk County and its police detectives union.
The pact, backdated to 2011, withholds retroactive pay but provides the union's 344 members with raises totaling 18.25 percent from 2014 to 2018. Those raises, and other terms including a no-layoff clause, are similar to the eight-year pact Bellone reached with the police officers union last fall.
Administration budget aides estimated that the detectives contract could cost Suffolk $52.6 million through 2018, while legislative budget analysts predicted $47.8 million in costs.
New detectives will need between 10 and 12 years, compared with the current four, to reach the top salary step, which will be $154,889 by 2018.