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L.A. losing millions of dollars on uncollected parking tickets, other fines and fees, audit shows

On a day when Los Angeles laid off more than 200 employees, a new audit released Thursday revealed that the city is losing tens of millions of dollars in revenue because of collection practices that barely capture half of parking ticket fines and other fees.

"I don't know of any business that would stand for such a low collection rate," said City Controller Wendy Greuel, who released the audit of six departments -- police, fire, housing, transportation, sanitation and building and safety. "It's simply not sustainable, and the city cannot and should not allow this to continue."

The audit, which looked at fiscal year 2008-09, showed that only 53% of some $553 million in city billings were collected. That's a loss of $260 million annually—enough, said City Councilman Paul Koretz, to have helped fill a budget gap that has led to hundreds of layoffs, reduced library hours and other service cuts.

Among the most "egregious" examples, the city auditor said, were parking citations and Emergency Management Services billing accounts. The city only collected 53% of the money it is owed on parking citations, the audit found, and 38% owed in emergency service billings.

"We need to do better, because otherwise the situation is grim," said Koretz, who chairs the council's audits and governmental efficiency committee and joined Greuel at a press conference outside City Hall. "There's a sword of Damocles that hangs heavy over countless city employees who fear their jobs might be the next ones lost."

The audit is a follow-up to a similar study three years ago. The city controller found some improvement, but said it was "outrageous and unacceptable" that Los Angeles had not made more progress.

Under-collection of revenue is a problem at every level of government, and officials acknowledge that not all billings are ultimately collectible. For instance, some vehicle owners will never pay their tickets, while indigent patients may never reimburse the city for ambulance fees. How Los Angeles' collection rate compares to other cities was not known, the controller said.

However, Greuel said there was ample room for improvement, and pushed for several reforms. Among her recommendations were the creation of a centralized billing process and a mandate that police and fire departments expeditiously refer delinquent accounts to outside collection agencies.

-- Patrick J. McDonnell

Photo by Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (89)

No one owes the government ANYTHING!

Why don't they try fixing some of the meters so those of us willing to pay can do so. I was on Melrose Ave. last Saturday and the meter I parked at was out of service along with the one for the space in front of me. As I walked I stopped at Goodfellas for lunch and there were two meters in front of there that weren't working.

How do you collect parking fines from people who are here illegal and " do not exist" officially?

Some goes for the Emergency management services...the council backs illegals.

You've made your bed, now lay in it!

Anyone who's been to New Orleans for Mardi Gras has seen the most effective solution to parking violations. A fleet of city-owned tow trucks prowls the city looking for parking violators. If you call to report your car stolen because it wasn't where you left it, they tell you to be really sure you didn't park illegally. Most "stolen" cars turn up in the police impound.

I would like to point out that this is a very clear example, of why the city seems to have increased the number of traffic enforcement officers in order to boost revenue, while under the guise of public protection. I would like to see how/if police response times have increased after each proposition for increased police budgets.

The collection of these accounts has nothing to do with the fact that city workers are overpaid and city agencies overstaffed.

However, what should happen is that citation collection should be farmed out to a third party. There is no reason to use city employees with their absurdly high wages, generous medical benefits, and full retirement rights after 20 years on the job to do a job that requires little skill.

We clearly pay a lot for these cities workers who can only get 50% of the fees collected. Failure as usual.

I hate parking tickets as much as the next guy/gal(thank you, thank you), but at least I pay mine. The city's fiscal problems are a joke, laying off the little people while the suits get raises. Then you read something like this and just feel like..

Here is what irks me the most, "officials acknowledge that not all billings are ultimately collectible. For instance, some vehicle owners will never pay their tickets, while indigent patients may never reimburse the city for ambulance fees." So we just give up? Really I can just say to the city, " No I really don't feel like paying that ticket, sorry" How about making it so these people HAVE to pay? Otherwise they can take them to jail for a few days until they are willing to pay. It is just pathetic. The city should look into outsourcing to a private collection agency that is actually interested in doing the job that city employees seem so reluctant to do.

I got a tickit for parking and it was 82.00 dollars. Are you crazy City of L.A.? If it was 20.00 I would have paid it, but since you are so greedy, I fought it and won. How can you not pay if you can't renew the car registeration?

LA is not "losing" money. It is, rather, not "collecting" money that it may well have no business collecting. The purpose of parking citations is to keep traffic moving, so that businesses in the area can prosper; they are not supposed to take the place of taxes.

Good luck to the city collecting the fine by turning over it to collection agency. I will just send c&d letter and that will be the end of that collection.

The city should not rely on money from citations and fees when putting together the budget to provide social services (i.e. library) and to pay salaries... what would happen if all of a sudden everybody started obeying the law?

When the government banks on its citizen to break the law (in order to collect revenue from citations) what does that about our society?

What's "outrageous and unacceptable" is that the city of Los Angeles evidently feels that fining its own citizens is revenue that it is entitled to, and which it is a tragedy if it doesn't get. It's not. Fines are supposed to be a punishment, not a corrupt bilking of the citizens for cash used to pay city employees. This is particularly true in the case of parking citations, which the city of Los Angeles has long focused on using as an extortionate tax, rather than an effort to keep parking available.

LA has degenerated to the proverbial small town where the sheriff sits by the side of the road trying to catch speeders in order to bring money into the town and pay gov't employees. That's not productive labor, it's just cheap banditry.

Finally: "How Los Angeles' collection rate compares to other cities was not known, the controller said." Then why the feigned outrage? If you don't know how good your collection rates are, compared to the numerous other entities that do the same thing, why the histrionics?

Hire a University of California parking director from UC San Diego or UC Santa Cruz. They'll squeeze the money out of Angelenos but good.

Employees about to be layed off could be temporarily reassigned to fines collection duty.
Or, have all city employees do it, one week a year?
They'll be saving their jobs through their own efforts.

Or, you can accept this as it really is. An unlawful tax on the middle and lower classes. If people are refusing to pay for something they didn't get to vote for, you may try to think about why.

What's outrageous are the bogus tickets The City hands out with impunity. Los Angeles Parking Enforcement Officers are clearly under pressure to ticket everything in sight and do, and there is no recourse. Fighting it comes down to your word against the flat-out untruth of the officer and you lose. It's galling and it's graft. I've paid my non-existing violations, so I've a right to complain - but I won't shed a tear for a department that breeds this type of behavior and abuses the citizens it supposedly serves.

Yeah thats the idea, gouge the city populace to meet the budget.
Los angeles has the highest compensation for a city council 25o k per person x 12
they each have an entourage that is paid for by your tax dollars and they get a generous fleet of cars and facilities.
this is only the tip of the iceburg we need reform now in the top echelon of city management NOW!!!

Stop bleeding so much money on the helicopter fleet, that would help.

How bout the city STOPS EXTORTING MILLIONS from people who need to park their cars and legalize the marijuana.. BILLIONS IN FUNDS ARE GOING TO THE GANGS IDIOTS

A "sword of Damocles," really? I think someone missed the point of that story (that or the concept of a metaphor).

The purpose of traffic fines is to discourage bad driving that may jeopardize public safety. Parking tickets and traffic fines are not supposed to act as an income generator for the city. There's case law on this.

Moi surely you jest.....the city employees saving their jobs through their own efforts. Hahahaaaaa Please when was the last time you actually saw a city worker working and not "sand bagging" it.

The only ones that are worse are CALTRANS.

Just to add to the chorus of other comments, LA is ridiculous in terms of parking tickets and collections. The point of tickets is to discourage bad driver behavior (whether a moving or parking violation), NOT as another tax, but the city clearly treats it as a revenue stream.

I've actually called various ticket agencies in LA a couple of times and been driven to the point of saying "I'm a citizen, not a revenue source!"

I'm in the middle of fighting a ticket from the Marina parking lots right now where I did pay to park, but mistakenly displayed the ticket stub wrong side up. $60, right there!

Don't even get me started on other LA agencies -- the LA Library is famous for missing checking in books when they are returned, fining you $$$$, admitting later on they made a mistake but STILL wanting to charge late fees anyway, and then turning the whole thing over to a collections agency.

The title of this article is ridiculous. How is L.A. losing money when they're duping hardworking citizens and just waiting for meters to run out of time? People can't help but street park around their neighborhoods because there aren't enough parking spots and/or permits are limited. Does the city care? Nope, they just go ahead and try to hand out citations as if it's going out of style. How in the world does one get ticketed for parking 19 inches off the curb?

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