Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy says TPVA and BusPatrol need to come up with a corrective action plan. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports.  Credit: Newsday

More than a quarter of all tickets issued in Suffolk County under a school bus camera program operated by BusPatrol America have not been paid, according to a county audit released Thursday, leaving nearly $13 million in potential revenue in legal limbo.

The $12.9 million in unpaid fines for tickets issued under the BusPatrol program during the audit period of September 2020 through Dec. 31, 2022, represents about 51,954 tickets, nearly 26% of the total issued, the audit found. The audit recommended BusPatrol, which receives 45% of the county ticket revenue, “should establish a process for collecting past-due amounts.”

Moreover, the audit by Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. said Suffolk's Traffic and Parking Violations Agency “failed to invoice and receive reimbursement from BusPatrol for the county's incurred administrative and adjudication expenses” during the audit period. Under its contract with BusPatrol, the county agency should be reimbursed for the expenses quarterly, the audit says.

One week after Kennedy notified BusPatrol of the audit's finding of the past-due balance, the company paid $358,331 that the previous administration never billed, he said. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • More than a quarter of all tickets issued in Suffolk County under a school bus camera program operated by BusPatrol have not been paid, according to a county audit, leaving nearly $13 million in potential revenue in legal limbo.
  • The audit by Suffolk Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. said Suffolk's Traffic and Parking Violations Agency “failed to invoice and receive reimbursement from BusPatrol" for "administrative and adjudication expenses” during the audit period.
  • One week after Kennedy notified BusPatrol of the audit's finding of the past-due balance, the company paid $358,331, he said. 

Kennedy in an interview said he was “glad we were able to expose something that was set out to be protective of the public, but that when you get under the hood you see how inefficient and chaotic the implementation [of the bus camera program] truly was.”

He called the quick repayment of past administrative costs by BusPatrol an example of “not just a vendor failing to perform” but a county agency that was “at best neglectful and at worst complicit,” in failing to collect fees due to the county.

A spokesman for BusPatrol didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Among other findings in the 34-page audit: two top former Suffolk County officials went to work for the BusPatrol more than nine months after leaving the county but did not “materially participate” in the bidding process that awarded the contract, so “no ethics rules were violated.”

However, the office cited the appearance of a conflict in recommending the Suffolk County Legislature strengthen its ethics law by prohibiting appointees of the county executive from “accepting employment with any firm involved in business dealings with the county that the appointee was directly concerned with or personally participated in” for two years after leaving office. 

The comptroller's audit also found the TPVA “failed to comply with the requirements of Suffolk County” by not submitting an annual report on the results of the school bus violation monitoring system to “each member of the county Legislature and clerk of the legislature by June 1st of each year the program is in operation.”

Paul Margiotta, former executive director of Suffolk’s TPVA, did not respond to a call or email for comment. BusPatrol was awarded the contract to equip and administer the Suffolk County school bus camera program in May 2020. 

Total revenue from fines tied to the program during the audit period was $34.7 million in Suffolk and $2.23 million for East End towns, which have a separate revenue-sharing model. Suffolk received $15.6 million of the $34.7 million as its share, while East End towns took in $904,090, the audit found. 

The revelations come on the heels of Newsday articles that found at least three former county officials have gone to work for politically connected BusPatrol since the contract was inked, while former Suffolk District Attorney Tim Sini serves as its outside counsel. Newsday found BusPatrol has spent more than $1.6 million lobbying state and local officials since a state law paved the way for bus cameras in 2019. In April, Gov. Kathy Hochul included a five-year extension of the bus camera law in her 2024-25 budget. 

The comptroller’s audit comes as Suffolk County faces a potential class-action lawsuit over the school bus camera program. A notice of claim was filed with the county last week. A county spokesman declined to comment on pending litigation. Separately, BusPatrol is the subject of a class-action lawsuit on behalf of a Suffolk resident, a case that has been moved to federal court.

The audit took issue with the number of tickets issued on the top 25 major roadways in nonresidential areas where motorists are “traveling at a significant rate of speed in moderate to heavy traffic.” Most locations did not have warning signs of the bus camera program, the audit found.  

“The total number of captured violations for the top 25 roadways in Suffolk County was 61,315 during the collection period of the audit,” the report states, noting those roadways accounted for 30% of captured violations, or 61,315 of a total 204,566 during the audit period. But those locations represented only 5.5% of the entire population of bus stops with captured violations during the same period, the audit found, recommending that the county consider “relocating certain troublesome bus stop locations from major roadways.” 

The audit found just over 14,000 tickets of the total 201,614 mailed during the audit period were contested by the vehicle owner, or around 7.3%, with the vast majority simply paying the fine. Of those who contested, 77.3% were found to be guilty. Around 9.5% of those ticketed were repeat offenders, Kennedy's audit found. 

Suffolk County has recently instituted a three-tier process for reviewing tickets, from a prior two-step process, and earlier this year dismissed more than 8,000 tickets following a November 2023 appellate court ruling in favor of a ticketed driver. Hochul's budget also included an amendment to the bus camera law to address evidence concerns that led to the court ruling. 

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