- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 4, 2002

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday said that fixing the ongoing problem of overbilling in the Department of Motor Vehicles is a higher priority than tracking down and reimbursing the estimated $17.8 million in excess fines collected by the District from motorists from 1981 to 1997.
"What the citizens of the city expect me to do first and foremost is get the system working forward before I go back trying to spend millions of dollars to get them fixed going backward," the mayor told a reporter from The Washington Times.
The Times reported last week that nearly 21,000 drivers have been overcharged by the DMV since Mr. Williams took office in 1999. That news came on the heels of reports by WTTG-TV (Channel 5) that the District has overbilled motorists for two decades.
City officials said the DMV's new computer system which went online this spring eventually would eliminate some of the problems.
On Monday, The Times reported that similar-sized cities including Boston and Baltimore had systems that minimized or eliminated the overbilling of motorists endemic in the District's DMV.
Until yesterday, Mr. Williams largely had referred questions about overbilling to DMV Director Sherryl Hobbs Newman, but he took a few minutes after a news conference to defend his administration's handling of the problems.
"The fact is, I inherited a lot of lousy systems," the Democratic mayor said.
Mr. Williams said that when he was elected, it was "just a fact of life" he was inheriting a collection of poorly run city agencies.
The Times last week reported that the DMV required motorists to produce receipts proving overpayments if they wanted to be reimbursed and that city law forced the DMV to pay back overbilled fines.
"It is a serious issue and the basic approach we're going to be taking is to create [a system] like we do with unclaimed property with public notice and marketing to let people know that these funds are there so they can come in and claim them," Mr. Williams said yesterday.
As of last week, the DMV was planning to keep its policy of requiring motorists to produce receipts proving overpayments, Mrs. Newman said.
Mr. Williams said his administration is "going to do everything we can to bring satisfaction and equity to people, but recognize [it was] a mess that was inherited."
The mayor said the city will try to guarantee that the $17.8 million in overpaid fines goes unspent so that motorists hoping to claim their money "can be verified and they can get the funds."
Mrs. Newman, who became DMV director in 1999, said the city was investigating how far back it could go into the ticket-payment archives to find motorists who had overpaid but was uncertain whether her office had the manpower to track down those who had moved or bought new cars during the past two decades.
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.
In the meantime, she said, she will conduct her own investigation, with DMV officials obtaining archived records from Affiliated Computer Services Inc., the company contracted by the District to process all tickets for the DMV.
D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, said last week she would hold hearings on June 11 to inquire about the overbillings.


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