New York 1 News

May 29, 2003

Rally at Ground Zero    

Collecting Fines Loses Money For The City, Study Finds

As City Hall and the police union trade accusations over whether a ticketing blitz is underway, a new report says issuing fines actually costs the city money.

The report by the city’s Independent Budget Office, which was released Thursday, says that, on average, the city spends more money to collect the fines than the tickets actually bring in.

Parking tickets are the only violations that net money for the city, costing 22 cents in processing costs and officer salaries for every $1 in revenue. For all other summonses, the city spends $2.09 for each dollar it collects, according to the analysis.

The Budget Office also projects that gross revenues from fines will increase 45 percent over two years, from $457.8 million last year to almost $661.9 million next year. The largest share of that increase is expected to come from parking violations, which are the subject of a dispute between City Hall and the police union.

“If you're not collecting fines that you impose for violations,” said Preston Niblack of the Independent Budget Officer, “then you don't really have effective enforcement.

The report shows the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development has the worst rate, spending $28 million last year only to bring in $200,000 worth in violations.

The Health Department, which issues tickets to street vendors, also has one of the lowest success rates in collecting fines, only bringing in 15 percent of the money from infractions.

Vendors are ticketed for obvious cleanliness issues among other things, however minor they may be.

“I don't have a hat, I forgot my hat, I have to take ticket for my hat,” said a vendor. “You know what I'm saying, just let us work that's all.”

The disparity between enforcement costs and actual collection is nothing new. The city has shelled out more money than it brought in from fines for years. But with the city in a budget crisis, it's a different time.

Council members say the city should stop the ticketing blitz, especially for trivial matters.

“We want to say to the mayor, ‘We don't want you to break the backs continually of working class New Yorkers by issuing more of these,” said City Councilman Hiram Monserrate.

Bloomberg aides said summonses aren't issued to make money, but to maintain the quality of life in the city and keep the public safe.

The mayor's office said that compared to last year, parking tickets are down 17 percent this year, moving violations are down 7 percent, and summonses for blocking movement in subway stations – as in the case of a pregnant woman who was issued a ticket for sitting on stairs at a station – is down 29 percent.

Earlier this month, the union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, took out print and radio ads accusing police supervisors of enforcing ticket quotas to boost revenue for the cash-strapped city. The union urged the public not to blame police officers for writing tickets.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly denies the union's claims, but says the department does have performance goals.

“We've always had it,” Kelly said Thursday. “We've had it since I joined the department in the 60s. We'll continue to have it. I think everyone can understand that there are goals we set for our employees.”

A day before, Mayor Michael Bloomberg also denied quotas are in place, saying union leaders made the allegation because they face re-election soon. However, Bloomberg admitted that more parking tickets could help ease the city’s budget crisis.

“Does the city need the money? Absolutely,” said the mayor. “The parking ticket fees, well, you can have it either way. You can have fewer cops on the street catching the bad guys, or you can have more parking tickets. We have to get revenues someplace, and fees and fines are welcome additions to tax revenues.”

Some members of the City Council have scheduled a news conference Thursday to address comments made by the mayor that suggested – wrongly, they say – the Council was involved in the alleged ticket blitz.