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Suffolk pols table proposed $55 traffic ticket fee increase

The Suffolk County Legislature seal in the lobby

The Suffolk County Legislature seal in the lobby of the legislature building in Hauppauge is seen on Aug. 14, 2012. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Suffolk lawmakers passed an emergency bill Tuesday to raise $200,000 a year by increasing fees on civil service exams, but delayed deciding on whether to double the county’s fee on traffic and parking tickets.

Lawmakers tabled the proposed $55 increase on traffic and parking tickets. Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Southampton) said she had ongoing concerns about operations at Suffolk’s Traffic and Parking Violations Agency, including incarcerations and violations of “basic court rules.”

Fleming said she and other lawmakers would meet Friday with Paul Margiotta, executive director of the traffic agency, and Suffolk Supreme Court Chief Judge C. Randall Hinrichs about complaints from attorneys, which include continued incarceration of defendants for violations.

Six lawmakers opposed the delay, saying the $5.5 million in revenue the proposal would generate shouldn’t be tied to other reforms and noting the fee increase already was approved in the 2017 budget.

“I don’t take any issue with trying to enact reform. But we have plenty of leverage without blowing a hole in our budget,” said Legis. Lou D’Amaro (D-North Babylon).

Meanwhile, under a last-minute resolution the legislature passed by a 12-5 vote Tuesday, the fee for most civil-service tests will increase from $25 to $40, while the fee for law-enforcement tests will rise from $100 to $125.

The county is looking to advertise within the week for upcoming tests for probation, 911 dispatchers, and clerk-typists, said Cynthia DiStefano, the county Civil Service Department’s director of classification.

Republicans complained the bill should have gone through the normal committee process.

Fees have become the political focal point for Republicans unhappy with county spending.

Suffolk County increased fees by $42.2 million in 2016, and fees are expected to rise by another $42.7 million this year. The increases roughly double what the county receives in general property tax.

Also Tuesday, Suffolk Republican legislators called for a measure to put a 2 percent ceiling on new fees, similar to the state cap on property taxes.

In addition, Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), said he will introduce legislation to roll back the new $300 mortgage fee increase passed in December that will generate $33 million in revenue, saying it goes far beyond what County Clerk Judith Pascale needs to supply the service. Those fees include charges on alarms, mortgages and recreational activities.

Bellone administration officials have maintained the fees are aimed at making those who use specific county services pay for them, rather than the public at large. They have noted that many of the proposed fee increases, including those on mortgages and tickets, mirror fees enacted in Nassau.

“A 2 percent cap worked in the state,” Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) said. “Hopefully, a similar cap on fee expenses could work here in Suffolk.”

The GOP caucus said that the mortgage fee is particularly onerous because Pascale never requested the additional fees and because the county clerk’s office has only seven employees working on processing the documents.

“What did we do — give these people a $33 million raise?” Trotta asked.

Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said the county was charging “fair fees for specific services.”

Without the money from fee increases, he said, property taxes would have to go up or spending would be cut, “which would result in layoffs and cuts to vital programs like public safety.”

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