When Buffalo city law enforcement officers issue motorists a citation for a traffic violation, the city -- in most cases -- loses money, City Comptroller Joel A. Giambra said today.
He wants the city to take over administration of traffic infractions from the state, much as towns and villages now do.
Traffic fines collected in the city have declined from $477,705 in 1990 to $280,572 in 1996, according to an audit that Giambra released today. During that same time, the audit showed, administrative costs imposed by the state Department of Motor Vehicles have risen from $582,445 to $688,695.
"There are certain situations when a ticket is written the city is actually losing money," Giambra said. "This is a classic example where bigger doesn't necessarily mean better. It's bizarre and it's definitely something that has to be changed."
The city in 1973 granted administration power for non-criminal traffic violations to the state in the city of Buffalo, Giambra said, but now the Common Council should petition the state to return that jurisdiction to the city of Buffalo.
"While it appears it might have been a good idea 25 years ago, it's time to look and see if we can bring this function back into city government," the comptroller said.
Giambra believes the city can administer traffic violations far more efficiently and for much less than the 60 percent of the total fine collections that it foots back to the state for administrative costs.
"When you do a cost-benefit analysis, it appears to be that we might be able to do it a lot better than that," he said.
The comptroller envisions hearing officers from the city's parking violation and administrative bureaus to handle the additional traffic summonses.
"When tickets are issued, my concern is we get all of the revenues for the city of Buffalo and do so in the most cost effective manner," Giambra said. "It will generate more money to the city of Buffalo at a time when the city needs more revenue."
He cited village and town government procedure as an example. While court systems in those municipal governments often allow ticketed motorists to plea bargain their summonses to lesser offenses, current procedure in the city forbids such activity.
Plea bargaining allows local municipalities to amass larger cash revenues from fines and provides motorists the opportunity to avoid points on their driving record.
Instituting the new proposal would make the system more equitable for motorists and residents within the city limits, Giambra contends.
He was quick to point out, however, that if the city opts for the new proposal and keeps 100 percent of the fines levied for itself, it does not mean city police officers will be any more or less inclined to ticket motorists on city streets.
"This should not ever be used as a revenue generating activity, it's all about traffic control on the streets," Giambra said.
The report was also released to the Common Council today for its consideration. Giambra said he plans to hold discussions with city and state officials concerning his findings and expects an ultimate decision on the proposal to be made by the end of the summer.