Legislation in Suffolk County to double the $55 fee on county traffic and parking tickets advanced out of committee Thursday although the legislature’s top attorney warned that courts can strike down fees that are deemed excessive.
Legislative Counsel George Nolan said courts have found fees can only cover costs of providing services.
“A fee has to be roughly commensurate with government’s cost of providing the service,” Nolan told the Ways and Means Committee. “If a case is brought challenging any fee on this basis, and the court finds it far exceeds the county cost in providing service, there’s a good possibility a court would say the fee is excessive.”
County Executive Steve Bellone has proposed the $55 increase to the cost of the ticket that would generate $5.5 million in 2017.
County spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said the fee hike will cover administrative costs associated with issuing the tickets and brings Suffolk in line with a newly approved hike in Nassau County. Suffolk’s would not include red-light camera tickets.
“This fee can be avoided altogether by obeying traffic laws,” Baird-Streeter said in a statement.
The committee discharged the bill on a 4-3 vote. The full Legislature will consider it at Tuesday’s general meeting in Riverhead.
Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said this and other fee increases, such as a $300 mortgage fee passed in December to raise $33 million, are aimed at generating revenue for the county, which is still struggling with multimillion-dollar deficits.
He said the fee increases are likely to be struck down by a court. “I’m not going to get involved in things that will be eventually be overturned, when we’re not sitting here,” said Trotta, who voted against the fee hike with Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) and Kate Browning (WF-Shirley).
Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Southampton) said high fees could help discourage unsafe driving. “We have to consider public safety and reduce the carnage we see on highways and roads,” she said.
Traffic fines are set by the state and can’t be adjusted by the county legislature.
Fleming and Democratic Legis. Monica Martinez of Brentwood, Rob Calarco of Patchogue and William Spencer of Centerport voted to discharge the bill without a recommendation.
In other action, Board of Health member Tracy Trypuc’s reappointment did not advance out of the health committee.
Trypuc, a nurse and board member for the past 10 years, told the committee she believed she was not reappointed as retribution for her outspokenness on a proposed energy drink ban. Spencer disagreed, saying the board wanted to allow board member Patricia Bishop-Kelly to serve a full term and to appoint a physician, Erin McGintee. Bishop-Kelly’s and McGintee’s nominations will be voted on by the full legislature on Tuesday.