With expenses far outstripping its revenue, Suffolk County can’t afford unforced errors like the nearly $10 million blunder just discovered. Desperate for new cash, County Executive Steve Bellone pushed for and enacted a law last fall tripling to $15 the registration surcharge for cars weighing less than 3,500 pounds, and tripling to $30 the charge for commercial vehicles and cars of more than 3,500 pounds. But those county fees are collected by the state Department of Motor Vehicles. No one with Suffolk County told the DMV the rates had changed, despite the fact that the county needed the money so badly that it tried to move up the starting date a month when the law was filed with the secretary of state in November.
County officials seem willing to take only some of the blame, admitting they didn’t notify the DMV but arguing that in the past it has been sufficient to merely file new laws with the secretary of state. However, both state and Suffolk County laws regarding collection of these fees make clear that the county must enter into an agreement with the DMV to change the amount collected. Suffolk realized the mistake in March when it saw that revenue for the registration fees for January was unchanged from January 2015. But the DMV cannot begin collecting the cash until at least mid-May because, again unbeknownst to the Bellone administration, the new fees must be publicized, which did not happen until Wednesday, and the public gets 45 days to comment.
It’s not as if the mistake cost Suffolk County taxpayers money. Every penny not collected is still in the pockets of vehicle owners who didn’t have to pay it. The incident merely cost Bellone’s administration some cash it needs to run the county, and a little more credibility on its ability to pay attention to details. — The editorial board