- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 28, 2002

The D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles says it will reimburse $17.8 million wrongly collected for parking tickets during the past 20 years, but drivers must prove they were overbilled.
Drivers overbilled from 1981 to 1999 must produce receipts showing the overpayments.
DMV officials have mailed notices to nearly 21,000 drivers who were overbilled since 1999 about their eligibility for reimbursements. So far, 11,500 have responded, but only 375 have received their money.
Drivers who have received notices need only prove their identities and mailing addresses for reimbursement, which they should get within six to eight weeks.
The reimbursements will not include interest, although the $17.8 million is drawing interest in the city's general fund.
"When we owe the government, they want their money back with interest, but they won't even give us our money back," said Bowie resident Shirlette Satterwhite, 50, who was paying her tickets yesterday at the Bureau of Traffic Adjudication at 65 K St. NE.
"They can't just say, 'We're sorry and we'll fix it from now on.' They need to give all the money back."
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said last week that the city is doing the best it can. "We were the ones who found it out, and we are working to make sure everyone gets their money back," he said.
Since DMV Director Sherryl Hobbs-Newman took office in July 1999, the agency has overbilled thousands of parking tickets totaling about $860,000, she said.
The agency has accounted for $470,000 to be returned based on the number of persons who requested reimbursement. "The average refund is about $41," DMV spokeswoman Regina Williams said.
Mrs. Hobbs-Newman said she was not aware her department had overbilled drivers until WTTG-TV (Channel 5) inquired about it late last year.
But a 1998 report by D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols showed that the DMV had wrongly collected $17.8 million in thousands of parking ticket overpayments from 1981 to 1997.
The auditor recommended, among other things, that the city develop a timely refund process and that the Transportation Systems Administration request monthly reports on overpayments from Lockheed Martin IMS, the company that processed parking tickets and operated the District's parking meters.
The D.C. auditor also said the Department of Public Works should "request a $67,155 reimbursement from Lockheed for fees improperly collected" and require the company to review its files for all double entries of tickets.
Nothing was done to stop the overbilling or to reimburse drivers until November, when Mrs. Hobbs-Newman learned of the situation. "My first concern was to address the problem starting from the day I got here [July 1, 1999] and begin the process of getting people their money back," she said.
DMV officials cannot reimburse drivers who overpaid before 1999 without their receipts because the agency keeps vehicle records only for three years, the director said. "Over a 20-year time period, it would be impossible for us to find most of these people."
Northeast resident Robert Walker, 47, said yesterday that he was forced to pay a $20 ticket that was invalid "because it had no date on it."
"I overpaid on other tickets, I found out. You have to come down here and ask them to pull your records," said Mr. Walker, who was paying tickets at the Bureau of Traffic Adjudication.
Southwest resident Shirley Carter, 56, said DMV records should go back further than three years "because they can track your tickets back for seven years."
"It is not an option for us to go back to [1981]," Mrs. Hobbs-Newman said. "We can only see what has taken place since I took over this office."
Mrs. Hobbs-Newman cited several reasons for overbilling, including inadvertent penalty payments, computer glitches and duplicate payments.
She said the agency's new Destiny computer system, which was implemented last month, will stop overbilling. "The new computer system will allow us to put in place more automatic systems that will alert us if someone overpays," she said.
The new system allows the ticket management information system to work with the registration and billing information systems. "It's unfortunate we didn't have a system that worked to alert people in a more timely fashion," Mrs. Hobbs-Newman said.
In 1998, the Division of Motor Vehicles was part of the D.C. Department of Public Works and was headed by Cellerino C. Bernardino.
According to the report and other documents obtained by The Washington Times, Mrs. Nichols submitted her audit and recommendations to Mr. Bernardino, Transportation Systems Administrator Gwen Mitchell and then-City Manager Camille C. Barnett on March 19, 1998.
Of the three officials who received the 1998 audit, Mrs. Mitchell is the only one who remains employed by the D.C. government. She is responsible for parking enforcement in the public works office.
"This agency did not become independent until 1999," Mrs. Hobbs-Newman said. "Forty percent of the recommendations became unnecessary when that happened."
"We looked at the rest of them line by line, and 99 percent of them have been implemented," she added.
Mrs. Nichols did not return several phone calls seeking comment.
D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican and chairman of the Public Works Committee, has overseen the motor vehicles agency since 1999. When she learned of the overbilling, "my first [inclination] was to bring in additional contract monitors and have Lockheed [Martin IMS] rework their contract," Mrs. Schwartz said.
She said Lockheed had several contract problems, including inaccurate parking meters that cost motorists an untold amount in erroneous fines.
Affiliated Computer Services Inc., the Dallas-based company that operates the District's ticket processing, said overpayments are not uncommon. "Overpayments occur for a variety of reasons that cannot be eliminated by processing systems," ACS spokeswoman Janice Langley said.
For example, Mrs. Langley said, "the ticket recipient is not always the vehicle owner, so it is still possible that overpayments might occur if the driver pays late and the actual vehicle owner pays after receiving a late notice."
She said ACS continues to support DMV and its new computer system to ensure that violation and payment information is current.
Mrs. Schwartz said she has drafted legislation requiring any reports from the offices of the D.C. auditor, inspector general and chief financial officer to be displayed on their Web sites.
"What has been a problem is that an agency will do a report, and people forget about it," she said.


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