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Feb 18, 2009 1:27 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Village sees windfall in outstanding tickets

Feb 18, 2009 1:27 PM

A debt-collection agency claims that Southampton Village could rake in $125,000 this year by offering partial amnesty on outstanding tickets and fines that otherwise might never be paid.

John Farrell of Fundamental Business Service in Hempstead told the Village Board that granting his firm permission to offer partial amnesty when collecting fines on the village court’s behalf would bring in as much as 30 or 35 percent of its outstanding fines—estimated at more than $400,000—that have gone unpaid since the court’s inception in 2002.

For its work, Fundamental Business Service, which has been collecting court fines for the village since 2002, would keep 20 percent of what it collects, Mayor Mark Epley said. If the agency collects $156,000, as projected, Fundamental Business Service would take approximately $31,000 off the top, leaving $125,000 for the village.

Mayor Epley referred to the potential windfall as “found money” and said the $125,000 could go a long way toward closing the $800,000 budget deficit village officials expect to face this year.

The court is run on a very small staff and does not have the manpower to do its own collections, according to the mayor. “It’s cheaper to outsource a lot of the time,” he said, predicting that hiring another court employee would cost $40,000 a year plus benefits.

The amnesty proposal was one of several cost-saving and revenue-generating ideas discussed at the board’s meeting on Thursday, February 12.

Mr. Farrell said an amnesty initiative is a historically successful motivator to get people to pay their outstanding tickets. Some courts have offered a 30 to 50 percent discount, while others have agreed to simply waive late fees, he said.

Mayor Epley said he favors the latter.

“Sometimes, the numbers get so overwhelming for people, they think ‘I just can’t afford to pay this,’” he said. If they only have to pay the original price of the ticket, he said they are more likely to pay.

“The reality is that these are all tickets that have been outstanding for up to six or seven years,” the mayor went on to say. “In a lot of ways, it’s money that we’ve written off.”

Mayor Epley said he hopes the board will approve the amnesty program at 
its work session on Tuesday, February 24, so it can be up and running in March.

The extra cash would help offset losses suffered by other departments feeling the effect of the bad economy. For instance, the village Building Department collected more than $1.4 million in fees in 2007. Last year, it collected less than $1.2 million. The projected figures for 2009 are even lower. The department collected only $38,548 last month, down from $78,880 in January 2008.

The court, however, is already collecting more money than anticipated.

“This is a very turbulent time with our economy so, of course, our business is way up,” said Village Justice Barbara Wilson.

The village expected to collect $400,000 in court revenue in its current fiscal year, which ends May 31. It had already taken in $471,000 by the end of January, Mayor Epley said.

Judge Wilson said lately she has been offering community service as an alternative sentence to fines because she knows many defendants cannot afford to pay. The court has sent defendants to work at non-profit organizations, such as Human Resources of the Hamptons and the Southampton Historical Museum, or to village departments to paint and pick up garbage to fulfill their sentences.

The village court is also now a DWI-seizure hearing site twice a month, Mayor Epley noted. Instead of having to go to court in Hauppauge, Southampton Village Police and East Hampton and Southampton town police now have to go only as far as the village for hearings.

“It’s all about travel time and efficient use and manpower,” the mayor 
said. Instead of taking a police officer off the streets all day for court, it now takes only 30 minutes or an hour, he said.

Mayor Epley is also exploring the possibility of the village purchasing a flat-bed truck or using a vehicle it already has so it can tow cars to the village impound itself, and collect towing fees. Private towing companies charge $150 during the day and $175 after hours per tow to take a car to the village impound at the police headquarters on Windmill Lane, according to the police department.

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Why are you letting all the tourists who couldn't care if they get a ticket and they thrown them out get away with this? NO AMNESTY. garnish their paycheck.
By local (106), north sea on Feb 22, 09 11:18 AM
hmmmm do they allow garnishiment for parking fines?
By pstevens (406), Wilmington on Feb 25, 09 10:50 AM