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Suffolk County plans to go after $22 million in unpaid tickets

Paul Margiotta, executive director of the Suffolk County's

Paul Margiotta, executive director of the Suffolk County's traffic and parking violation agency, in a file photo from March 13, 2013. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

The administration of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is planning to aggressively go after more than $22 million in unpaid traffic tickets and late fees by offering amnesty to scofflaws and imposing booting and towing of major offenders’ vehicles.

The aim is to target 207,199 traffic citations with payments that are at least 90 days overdue, to bring in $7 million of the outstanding balance by year’s end. The revenue already is included in the county’s 2016 budget.

“We’re looking to bring in $7 million so we have to look at more than one way to do it,” said Paul Margiotta, executive director of the county’s traffic and parking violation agency.

The amnesty, which would begin in June, involves forgiving some of the late fees if regular fines are paid, Margiotta said, although officials could not yet say how much drivers could save.

Currently, fines double for parking tickets after 30 days and triple after 60 days of nonpayment. There also are $100 administrative fees for judgments, $50 administrative fees for defaults and $50 penalties for failure to pay fines in a timely manner.

Booting and towing of vehicles, Margiotta said, would come later, in the early fall, because the county will to seek requests for proposals from outside contractors to do the work, a process that could take several months.

Although details are not final, Margiotta said officials expect to limit booting and towing enforcement to motorists with at least $2,000 in unpaid fines and late fees.

“I consider them serial offenders and I have no problem using the boot to enforce the law,” said Margiotta

The Suffolk Legislature in 2014 authorized the traffic agency to impose a $250 fee for booting and a $350 fee for towing as well as a $75 nightly charge for auto storage, but the charges were never put into effect. Margiotta said he will inform county lawmakers of plans once details are finalized, but said no new vote is needed to implement a boot and tow plan.

Suffolk County Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley), who cast the lone vote in 2014 against higher fees and the authorization to boot and tow, called the new plan “unfair to the poor who are being hammered and just trying to keep a roof over their heads. Rich people just pay, but for hardworking people, losing their car can mean losing their livelihood.”

Negotiations for operation of the amnesty program have been underway for the past month with Xerox State and Local Solutions Inc., the contractor that oversees Suffolk’s red light camera program.

Bellone spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said it, “makes perfect sense” for the county to speak with Xerox because the company is familiar with the traffic and parking violation agency.

Xerox’s existing contract, which runs through 2018, calls for Xerox to handle “debt collection services for unpaid violations.” Services include issuing notices to scofflaws, telephone calls to motorists with three or more unpaid tickets and demand notices and credit bureau reporting. Over the past three years, Suffolk has paid Xerox $24,385,000, according to the Suffolk comptroller’s office.

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