Software blamed for $17.6 million in unpaid Long Beach parking fines
"We cannot afford to ignore the problem any longer," said City Auditor Laura Doud, who announced the findings at a Thursday morning news conference with Mayor Bob Foster. "We must act swiftly and make needed investment to update our outdated system to be more efficient in our collection efforts and to use city resources better."
The audit was conducted to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of the city's parking citation collection efforts and related software system. The review covered fiscal years 2009 through 2011.
About 345,000 citations are processed each year in Long Beach, generating millions in revenue for the seventh-largest city in the state.
But for the past few years, parking ticket revenue has declined. In 2011, the city generated more than $13 million in revenue, down from $15 million in 2009.
Of the $17.6 million in unpaid parking tickets, most are three years old or less, the report said.
The audit noted that staff time is consumed with "manual processes, research and reconciliations" because the system is antiquated and lacks "basic functionality." The software problem came to light after the commercial services bureau, which oversees a wide range of billing and collection, took over parking citations two years ago.
The city adopted a new system in 2000, but the database was never cleansed to eliminate old, incorrect or uncollectable citations.
"Over time this has slowed the system considerably, limiting management's ability to generate reports and rely on the information in the report," the audit stated.
In addition, the system is not linked with the state Department of Motor Vehicles, so when a motorist's information changes, the city is often unaware and the tickets remain unpaid.
Auditors say the bureau has since worked with the city's tech support to improve the data records and processes involving DMV and have made progress cleansing the database.
But the audit notes that "the problems with the software are so severe that incremental improvements will never result in the city being able to adequately manage parking citations."
Auditors have recommended that the city improve oversight of the collection process and update its software program -- a matter the City Council will discuss at its next meeting.
"We are working together to actively look for solutions for Long Beach," Mayor Bob Foster said. "If we can successfully collect even a portion of the unpaid fines, it would be a great gain."
The revenue gained from updating software could support additional police officers, add more library hours or improve parks, he said.
-- Ruben Vives in Long Beach
Photo: Long Beach has failed to collect nearly $18 million in unpaid parking tickets. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times