Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Some local officials say they are hesitant to follow Arlington County’s lead in using cameras to collect delinquent property taxes and unpaid parking tickets.

Arlington County officials have collected nearly $30,000 in outstanding debts since they began using the BootFinder in April, The Washington Times reported last week. The BootFinder consists of a laptop computer and a hand-held camera that scans the license plates of parked cars to identify scofflaws.

The BootFinder, which was developed by Alexandria high-tech company G2 Tactics, has not gained a sizable number of users, and many officials in neighboring jurisdictions were unaware of the program.

“I cannot say if it’s something we would consider,” said Mary Myers, spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Public Works. “I don’t know if it would financially make sense to [implement cameras]. That may be a decision for a financial analyst to wrestle with.”

Lucy Murray, director of communications for the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue, would not comment on whether the camera would benefit the city.

“We pass whatever the D.C. Council puts in front of us,” Miss Murray said. “It hasn’t been introduced in front of the council yet, so we wouldn’t want to take a position on [using cameras] yet.”

Meanwhile, Maryland law requires the auction of liens on property belonging to anyone with outstanding debts, said Robert Hagedoorn, Montgomery County treasury chief.

“With that law, we’re going to get our money either way, so a camera would be [unnecessary],” Mr. Hagedoorn said.

However, Alexandria Finance Director Dan Neckel said the city is looking into implementing a similar system.

“It looks good. We’re looking into it, but [talks] are still in its preliminary stages,” he said. “We’re comparing the prices of the [BootFinder] and another competitor, but it sounds nifty.”

Arlington County spent $27,000 to buy the camera, and has recovered about $900 each hour of its use, said Arlington County Treasurer Frank O’Leary.

The county has collected $29,847.51 on 72 vehicles in 33 hours after beginning the program April 19, Mr. O’Leary said.

In Arlington, two treasury workers patrol the city in a van, aiming the camera at the license plates of parked cars. The camera is connected to a laptop computer that compares the name registered to the license number against a database of persons with outstanding taxes or fines.

If a car’s owner has any unpaid taxes or fines, the computer audibly informs the camera’s operator, who calls the treasurer’s office for verification. After the information is verified, the workers remove the car’s license plates and place a bright green levy sticker on the driver’s side of the windshield.

The camera has several lenses, including infrared, that can read the license plates of parked or passing vehicles, Mr. O’Leary said.

“Our system is not so high-tech” in the District, Miss Myers said. “We just provide [wheel boot installers] with a list of vehicles with three or more 30-day-old tickets.”

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