Last chance for Nassau's scofflaw drivers

A red-light camera monitors the North Service Road A red-light camera monitors the North Service Road of the LIE at Ronkonkoma Avenue in Ronkonkoma. (Oct. 28, 2010) Photo Credit: James Carbone

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Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has

Got a parking or traffic violation ticket from Nassau County? Pay it now -- before it's too late.

Things are changing in the county's long-suffering Traffic and Parking Violations Agency.

The newly aggressive agency had an 80 to 85 percent rate of response on tickets issued in 2010, the latest figures available.

That marked the highest rate in memory for an agency that for a long time had a well-earned reputation for allowing motorists to ignore parking and traffic violation tickets almost with impunity.

The result was a backlog of hundreds of thousands of unpaid tickets -- for a cash-strapped county now scrambling for every dime it can get.

Until recently, the county was working to collect fines and penalties on moving violations tickets dating back to 1979, when Jimmy Carter was president and the Village People's "YMCA" was the nation's most popular song.

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Yikes.

The traffic agency recently was allowed to dump 70,000 moving violations tickets dating backward from Dec. 31, 1992, from its files, said John Marks, the agency's executive director.

And there's a request pending to do the same for more than 100,000 or so parking tickets from the same era. Note the word, pending, please. As of now, the tickets are still good.

Instead of putting resources toward trying to collect ancient tickets, the agency is taking a more forward-looking approach.

Recently, the agency fired off 10,000 letters asking scofflaws to pay up. That includes those who owe on parking tickets. And on traffic summonses issued after Jan. 1, 1993.

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For months the county offered an amnesty program, but there were few takers, Marks said.

Fear not, however. There's still time to set things right before the county starts a new program that will boot and tow vehicles belonging to scofflaws.

But Marks said that while amnesty's over, "If people are reasonable with us, we will be reasonable with them."

Which means there's a possibility the agency will be willing to negotiate and forgive penalty costs on older tickets, Marks said.

In a January audit, County Comptroller George Maragos pointed out that the agency wasn't getting the amount of revenue from tickets that it should.

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Nassau's new red-light cameras were put in to help the county capture more revenue. And to help stop accidents. But if a driver gets three unpaid red light summonses in 18 months -- bam! -- boot or tow. Three unpaid parking tickets in 18 months -- boot or tow. Plus the addition of more than $100 to remove the boot or get the vehicle back.

Maragos announced earlier this week that he's signed off on the boot or tow vendor contract. So the program likely will go into effect soon, although the county has set no date.

Still not convinced?

Marks said the agency also is routinely sending to Albany the names of scofflaws, which puts them in danger of not being able to renew or keep their state vehicle registration.

"If we collected these funds things could be different," Marks said, referring to the tens of millions of dollars in revenue the comptroller's office estimated Nassau was losing in unpaid ticket revenue.

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Got a ticket? Pay it off. Because Nassau can't -- and won't -- be ignoring you anymore.

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