Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone will support a lawmaker's efforts to bar the county's new Traffic & Parking Violations Agency from collecting administrative fees from motorists found not guilty.
"If a driver is found not guilty of an infraction, it's not fair to charge an administrative fee," Bellone said late Wednesday afternoon. "Suffolk County has operated this agency for less than a year, and we should listen to our residents and be open to improving operations."
Bellone's comments -- his first public stance on the controversy -- come less than a week after his traffic agency director defended such fees by saying "somebody has to pay" for the clerical work that goes into processing the tickets.
Suffolk's Traffic & Parking Violations Agency opened in April as a way for the county to keep more of the ticket revenue that had been going to the state. But in recent months, motorists have increasingly complained that they were stuck with the county's $50 fee despite meeting the requirements under state law to be found not guilty of certain infractions, such as a broken taillight.
In those cases, a motorist can provide proof the issue was fixed within a day and have the ticket dismissed without fines.
Speaking to lawmakers last week, Paul Margiotta, the traffic agency's executive director, noted that motorists who quickly fixed a broken taillight -- allowing their ticket to be dismissed and them to be considered not guilty under state law -- were still guilty at the time they were issued their ticket.
He also said those found not guilty of infractions were not charged the fee, though motorists have disputed that.
Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said Wednesday that, while what Margiotta said was "fundamentally right," Bellone saw the issue as one that touched a nerve with residents.
"Those are ways people are nickeled-and-dimed. It drives them crazy," Schneider said.
Legis. Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue), who introduced the bill to stop the $50 fees on not-guilty tickets, credited Bellone for coming around on the issue. Legislative budget analysts said that not charging the fees on dismissed tickets could cost Suffolk $486,000 next year, but Calarco said that could be offset by increasing the fee for guilty drivers by just $5.
"We figured out a way to make sure we're not imposing fees on people who haven't done anything wrong in the first place, or people with minor issues the law allows them to correct," Calarco said.
The county's $30 administrative fee on red light camera tickets will not be impacted by the bill, which will be subject to a public hearing Tuesday.