Annapolis parking fine confusion may soon end

Mix-ups at processing firm caused thousands to be erroneously billed for violations.

June 10, 2005|By Grant Huang | Grant Huang,SUN STAFF

For thousands of Annapolis-area residents incorrectly billed last month for parking violations, the end may finally be in sight.

Citation Management, the Milwaukee-based company recently hired by the city to process its parking tickets, has nearly finished frantic efforts to correct accounting problems after mailing two successive waves of erroneous bills to area drivers who had been ticketed for parking violations. Working closely with city officials, Citation hopes to set things right by mailing final correction letters to affected drivers this week.

The mix-up began last month when Citation sent out 2,000 bills to drivers who had already paid tickets they received in January and February. Citation Management blamed its predecessor, Complus Data Innovations, which had handled Annapolis' parking ticket processing and billing since 1991. Citation outbid Complus for the contract this year, necessitating the transfer of ticket payment data.

According to a statement by Citation Vice President Brian Dunn, the data his company received from Complus did not contain 45 days' worth of payment information, which led Citation to issue bills for tickets that had already been paid. Complus officials have denied withholding any information, saying they complied fully with all transition requests from the city and Citation Management.

Annapolis finance director Tim Elliott said that the city was ultimately responsible and should have done more to facilitate a smoother transition from Complus to Citation.

"You assume everything's OK, and then it turns out, bingo, it's not, and all you can do is try and fix it," he said.

But efforts to fix the problem were set back by another mix-up May 25, when Citation mailed notices to 5,000 drivers who had paid parking fines, but did so past due according to its database. Elliott said city policy provides for a grace period after the due date on the ticket during which payments for parking fines are accepted without penalty. Apparently, this exception was not programmed into Citation's computer system, resulting in the latest series of botched bills, he said.

Annapolis officials once again got phone calls from angry residents, some of whom had already called after being sent one of the earlier erroneous bills. Many of the callers were further infuriated when city agencies referred them to Citation.

Many of the callers were worried about being required to produce some type of paper record to prove they had been billed in error, but Elliott said the city and Citation would be inclined to give people "the benefit of the doubt" as much as possible.

"We've been asking people, if they don't have some paper record, to just go ahead and write a statement saying they paid the ticket and then just sign it and send that in," he said. This would act as an affidavit for legal purposes, though Elliott indicated that the state was unlikely to challenge any of them, given the small amount of revenue in question: roughly $4,000 (parking tickets in the city range from $15 to $100).

Because a large number of the bills sent were correct, Citation was forced to determine which ones were wrong case by case, Elliott said. Initially, there was also some confusion as to what affected drivers should do; Citation officials advised them to call the company's account hot line to have their tickets examined individually, while some city officials told callers to ignore the last batch of bills, saying they would all be invalidated.

"They should call the number on the notice, which is to Citation, and just make sure it's cleared," Elliott said.

However, the police should still be called if drivers wish to challenge the issuance of the ticket, he said. Elliott, whose department has worked closely with Citation to put an end to the problem, said the city still had confidence in Citation and that their relationship remained comfortable.

"We're really done with it this time; this is old news now," Elliott said.

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