New York Daily News

cover May 14      

May 14, 2003

A fine way to raise cash

Tix blitz raking in millions & rankling New Yorkers


New Yorkers are getting soaked with summonses.

With the city battling a multibillion-dollar deficit, an army of enforcement agents has handed out more than 3.5 million summonses in the last nine months - part of an effort to raise $662.7 million in fines this fiscal year.

  Chongwon Cho gets ready to join the crowd and make her case against a ticket at 66 John St. People at center griped that city's not letting anything slide these days.

"Before, if it wasn't a major violation, an inspector would give you a warning before he gave you a fine," said Ahmed Kerien, 32, a restaurant owner in Astoria, Queens.

"Now, we get fined from every single thing," he said. "The only way I can explain it is that the city needs money, and it's going to try to get it every way it can."

It's a common perception among many who have received tickets. Although the total numer of tickets is about the same as last year, city records show wide swings among the kinds of tickets being written - and the higher prices being charged:

From July 1 to April 1, city agencies under the auspices of the Environmental Control Board have issued 15,417 more quality-of-life summonses than in the comparable period the previous year, a 3.2% increase.

The Buildings Department issued 3,400 sign violations between July 1 and April 1 - 31 times more than the 109 violations issued during the same period last year, the board said.

Even when agencies issued fewer summonses, revenue has risen because fines have increased. For example, 3 million parking tickets were written between October and February, which is 9.1% fewer than in the previous year. But because parking fines nearly doubled six months ago - and the penalty for the most serious violations jumped to $105 from $50 - the city is forecasting $550 million in parking fine revenue, up from $465 million last year.

Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch charged Monday the NYPD has become a "summons machine generating millions of dollars to close the city's budget gap."

By hiring an additional 300 traffic enforcement agents, the Police Department anticipates it will issue an extra 1.7 million parking summonses and generate an additional $85 million in fine revenue in fiscal year 2004.

Sanitation cleaning up

The Sanitation Department also has doubled some of its fines. Starting June 1, those who fail to sweep sidewalks or properly dispose of household trash will pay $100, instead of the $50 they had paid for the past decade.

"We're not being more aggressive, but if [inspectors] see a violation, they're going to write you up," Sanitation spokesman John Pampalone said. "If people comply with the law, they'll not get a summons. It's that simple."

On March 24, the Health Department changed inspection procedures and expanded the number of violations that fall under the critical category, which carries an automatic fine.

"It seems very convenient that the fines went up right when New York needed money," said Justin Grona, 22, a restaurant worker who got a $100 Health Department summons. "As citizens, we all want the budget problem to be fixed, but I think businesses are bearing too big a burden."

Downtown battleground

The daily drama of the summons battle is played out in a city building at 66 John St. in lower Manhattan, which has become a one-stop shop for misery for many New Yorkers.

Parking summonses get challenged there, restaurant workers argue health infractions and business owners contest the fairness of fines levied by a half-dozen city agencies.

Alan Weinberg was there representing a Staten Island church that had gotten a sign violation from the Buildings Department.

"It's an all-out blitz," said the expediter. "The city is in a tremendous fiscal crisis right now, and they're doing everything they can to make money."

Ivan de Jesus, 24, was at 66 John to contest a $105 no-standing ticket.

He said he pulled up to a no-standing zone in front of a doctor's office, and as soon as he got out to open the door for his mother, a cop wrote him a ticket.

"I was explaining to the cop I had to stop in front of the doctor's office because my mom has an injured knee and she can't walk," de Jesus said.

"The cop basically told me, 'Too bad,'" said de Jesus, who failed to get the summons dismissed. "If the city didn't need money, I doubt I would have gotten this ticket."

If the ticket blitz continues, some businesses warn they might be tempted to leave New York. "The mayor is treating the merchants as cash cows," said Sung Soo Kim, president of the Korean American Small Business Services. "But if [small businesses fade], soon the entire city economy will atrophy and New York will be in much bigger trouble than it is right now."