- The Washington Times - Monday, June 3, 2002

A survey of cities the size of the District reveals that the idea of returning money to car owners who overpaid their parking tickets is a no-brainer. And the cities have long had a system to do just that.
Not so in the District, where the Department of Motor Vehicles is under the gun for collecting and keeping $17.8 million in overpaid fines, and for not devising a reliable way to return the money it owes.
Boston, with 590,000 residents, has an innovative method of dealing with the overpayments.
"What we do is reapply the [excess fine] money to another ticket in the vehicle owner's name," said Tracy Ganiatsos, spokeswoman for the Boston Transportation Department.
The city sends motorists a reimbursement notice only if there are no tickets pending against their names in the system, "which is rare," Mrs. Ganiatsos said.
"In the first nine months of this fiscal year, we refunded about $230,000," she said. But the city reapplied three to four times that amount to other tickets.
Parking is a serious problem in Boston. The vast majority of the city's parking is reserved for its 375,000 registered cars. But for the 600,000 additional vehicles that come through each day, the city has only 7,300 meters, Mrs. Ganiatsos said.
El Paso, Tex., with a population of 560,000, deals swiftly with overpayments.
"We get three overpayments a day," said El Paso Parking Department accountant Lilly Worrell. "And we send out about one refund per week."
As in the case of Boston, El Paso also reapplies excess dollars people send in to other tickets in their names.
"They usually owe us more so the refunds are not so frequent," she said.
Parking director Richarda Momsen said the biggest problem El Paso encounters with overpayments is that people send in single checks to pay off more than one ticket.
"But they don't put the ticket numbers on the check," Mrs. Momsen said.
She said it can take more than a week to get the person's tag number from the Texas Department of Transportation and calculate the amount actually owed.
"Our other overpayments are more commonly from rental-car companies," Mrs. Momsen said.
What occurs in this instance is that car renters get the tickets, but the fine is attributed to the company.
"The rental company usually pays, then sends a notice to the renter, who also pays," she said.
The company subsequently applies for a refund. The process has worked for more than 10 years in El Paso.
Baltimore, with a population of 650,000, has been issuing reimbursement notices to its residents for nine years.
"When someone pays a ticket more than once, we send them a notice with information on what they need to do to get their money back," said Baltimore parking fine supervisor Joyce Camphor.
Mrs. Camphor said the notices include the ticket number, the date of the ticket and the date of the payment.
She said she could not ascertain how many reimbursement notices they send out in any given period of time, nor would she calculate how much money the city has reimbursed this fiscal year.
The methods these jurisdictions use to process parking tickets are altogether different from the District's.
All have separate divisions for dealing with parking tickets and fines for moving violations. Usually, moving violations are handled by the municipal court system.
The District has only the Bureau of Traffic Adjudication an agency directly overseen by the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to handle both tasks, said DMV spokeswoman Regina Williams.
Mrs. Williams said the only tickets not handled by traffic adjudication are those dealing with instances of reckless endangerment, vehicular homicide and driving under the influence.
On Thursday, The Washington Times reported that the city has no law requiring it to reimburse motorists for overpayments on tickets.
But DMV Director Sherryl Hobbs Newman said her agency will continue efforts to do so, "because it is the right thing to do."
Mrs. Newman said she will ask Deborah Nichols, director of the Office of the D.C. Auditor, to do a follow-up report, "if not another full investigation," on the overpayment problem.
"But that will depend on what type of manpower they have and when they can do another audit," she said.
In the meantime, Mrs. Newman said, she will conduct her own investigation. She said her office will be obtaining archived records from Affiliated Computer Services Inc., the company responsible for processing tickets, to effect more reimbursements.

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