MVA's computer sends bad bills Reprogramming glitch causes 172 drivers some grief.

June 12, 1992|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer

It came as a shock to Andrew Venezia when he opened up the letter from the MVA this week and discovered a bill for $18.48.

The Motor Vehicle Administration claimed he owed that much if he wanted to renew the registration on his 1983 Dodge pickup truck before the end of July.

Why was that a surprise? As a combat veteran with a full disability, the 73-year-old Edgewood resident has never had to pay for a registration renewal.

Secondly, the number seemed a bit odd. Most car owners pay $35 or more for the little sticker that renews their vehicle's license plates.

"It was the first time I'd ever been charged for a renewal," said Mr. Venezia, a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War.

"I figured the MVA was goofing up."

Turns out he was right.

MVA Administrator W. Marshall Rickert said yesterday that 172 people were mistakenly mailed bills for that identical sum, $18.48, because of a "minor glitch" in the MVA's computer in Glen Burnie.

The foul-up apparently originated with a recent computer reprogramming to convert registrations from once a year to once every two years.

The reprogramming also added an $8-a-year surcharge to finance statewide emergency medical services.

Under Maryland's motor vehicle laws, about 2,000 car and truck owners qualify for free registration.

In addition to government vehicles (which don't have to be renewed each year), that list includes volunteer fire trucks, American Red Cross vehicles and cars owned by the Civil Air Patrol or by veterans organizations -- as well as by some disabled veterans, such as Mr. Venezia.

After the reprogramming, the computer somehow interpreted the letters "GR," the abbreviation for "Gratis Registrations," as an instruction to bill the car owners $18.48, officials said.

"It involved 172 of the 250,000 registration renewals we mailed out this month -- I'll take that batting average any time," Mr. Rickert said. "This sort of thing happens all the time with the amount of data we're managing."

MVA officials said they have already corrected the mistake for renewals that come up later this year. They hope to mail letters explaining the goof later this month to the 172 people who were affected.

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