The head of Suffolk's new Traffic & Parking Violations Agency on Thursday defended the controversial policy of charging an administrative fee even on tickets that are dismissed.
Members of the legislature's Public Safety Committee questioned Paul Margiotta, executive director of the agency, about the administrative fee of $30 or $50 on each ticket. Residents have complained about having to pay the fee even after correcting issues such as broken taillights.
"Somebody has to pay," Margiotta said. He noted that Suffolk must have clerks to log tickets and prosecutors to ensure that vehicle repairs are made before issuing dismissals, as state law allows.
"If you're asking who should pay, my answer is the guys who are guilty," said Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue), who wants to waive administrative fees for some dismissed tickets.
Margiotta replied that people who prove that they've made required repairs were guilty when they were ticketed. He said Suffolk doesn't charge administrative fees to motorists found not guilty, though some motorists have disputed the claim.
Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) backed the administrative fees, saying there is significant police time spent on each ticket. "The law allows someone to rectify the situation in certain instances, but that doesn't mean there isn't a cost to us," Gregory said.
Margiotta did not provide the average cost to process a ticket, saying a calculation was in the works. "I'm going to guess it's more than $50," he said.
Calarco suggested that if the county wants to ensure it recoups its costs, it could raise the administrative fee -- but only charge motorists who did not have their tickets dismissed.
"I'm not looking to make money off these poor people who really are not at fault," Calarco said. Noting the state's policy of allowing fixes to mechanical issues, on the presumption that the motorist didn't know about them at the time, Calarco said: "I don't know anyone who does a 20-point check of their vehicle before they leave in the morning."
Margiotta said the agency has settled 50,000 cases and collected more than $10 million in fines in seven months. Suffolk opened its traffic bureau in April in an effort to keep more of the ticket revenue it was giving the state.
For 2014, the traffic agency's first full year in operation, officials project it will have $11.5 million in expenses and bring in $51 million in revenue, including more than $27 million from red-light-camera violations.