- The Washington Times - Friday, June 21, 2002

Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles, starting July 1, will waive any late fees or other penalties for residents with parking tickets issued before 1997.

Mr. Williams announced the six-month ticket-amnesty program as a part of his five-point plan to correct problems in the DMV. The amnesty also will be extended to anyone living outside the District who hasn't paid an old ticket.

"There is no single city function for our citizens that affects their lives more on a day-to-day basis than the DMV," Mr. Williams said.

City officials said forgiving the late fees could cost the city $130 million.

Longtime scofflaws will be required to pay only the face value of their citations, said DMV Director Sherryl Hobbs Newman. Penalties still will apply to any late tickets issued since Jan. 1, 1997.

The amnesty announcement comes after a series of stories in The Washington Times detailing problems with the DMV, including the revelation that the agency had overcollected $17.8 million in fines from motorists from 1981 to 1997.

The problem was first uncovered in 1997, but the DMV has continued to overcollect from motorists, including $860,000 in excess fines since Mrs. Newman took over the agency in November.

City officials, responding to news coverage of the overpayments, have begun working with Affiliated Computer Services Inc., the Dallas-based company contracted to handle the DMV's ticket-information system, to reimburse motorists.

"We have sent out 45,000 notices to people who are due refunds," Mrs. Newman said.

To date, about 15,000 people have responded and more than 9,000 checks have been mailed, accounting for nearly $800,000, she said.

"But it is important to note that just as the city will never collect all of the [$490.2 million] owed to us, we will never be able to reimburse everyone who overpaid," Mrs. Newman said.

D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican who has been a vocal critic of the DMV's handling of the issue, said the new plan covers every complaint and problem brought to the attention of the city.

"There is a consensus and there is nothing missed in this plan," Mrs. Schwartz said.

In addition to the amnesty, 14 new employees will start work Monday, filling the vacant counters at the DMV service centers Brentwood, Penn Branch, Georgetown and C Street.

"We will also secure 16 additional employees through the Department of Employment Services welfare-to-work program," Mrs. Newman said.

The new front-line staffers will have staggered work schedules so there is someone there to cover lunch hours, when residents routinely crowd the satellite offices, Mr. Williams said.

The city also is negotiating a contract to speed the renovation of the vehicle-inspection station on West Virginia Avenue NE, which has been shuttered for not meeting Environmental Protection Agency standards.

"Right now, the contract for construction is 15 months. We are looking to lower the time frame, but it will cost us more to do that," said Jacques Abadie, director of the Office of Contracting and Procurement.

In the meantime, the city has engaged 14 gas stations to handle re- inspections for residents whose vehicles have failed their initial safety tests.

Some of the other points in the plan include screening customers at the DMV information desk to separate those who have few or no problems from customers with long lists of issues, instituting payment plans and starting a new information system for residents.

Starting July 29, the DMV will begin its Problem Resolution Network.

The system will give customers the opportunity to call, use the Internet or meet with trained staffers to request payment plans and seek correction or dismissal of tickets because of incorrect ownership information.

A resolution will be sent to residents within four to six weeks, but the network "will not replace the normal adjudication process," Mrs. Newman said.

Payment plans for tickets amounts of more than $250 will be available after July 8. Residents will be required to pay 25 percent down with six months to pay all of the fines, during which time they will be issued temporary licenses and registration.

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