Update: see previous posts – November 17, 2012 Province of Ontario Collecting on Decade-Old POA Debts from Motorists, May 18, 2010 Traffic Violators Owe Taxpayers $1,048,607,020.80 in Unpaid Traffic Fines, May 17, 2010 1 Billion Dollars in Unpaid Traffic Tickets (Ontario), February 1, 2010 Toronto wants to Rake in Millions from Motorists, January 5, 2010 Alberta, Montreal, Nova Scotia & Ontario Collect on Unpaid Tickets, April 18, 2009 Parking Tickets issued to non-residents of Ontario cannot be collected by the City of Toronto.
Over the past decade the amount of unpaid provincial fines to municipalities in Essex County has continued to climb and now stands at $35.3 million.
Despite hiring a collection agency, suspending drivers’ licences and threatening seizure of property, officials have only collected about half of the fines owed to municipalities for provincial offences like speeding, hunting out of season and abusing an animal since 2001.
Provincial offences run the gambit of non-criminal infractions from laws like the Highway Traffic Act, the Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act, the Liquor Licence Act and municipal bylaws.
The vast majority of charges laid are levied by police for driving violations like running a red light or driving without a seatbelt.
In 2001, the administration of provincial offences was downloaded to municipalities and, in Essex County, the City of Windsor runs the Provincial Offences Service Unit on behalf of eight communities in the region. The unit is self-funded from revenue collected from fines. Any surplus money is divided up among the municipalities in the region according to population size.
None of the debt has been written off, said Sherri Arsenault, manager of administration for the Provincial Offences Service Unit.
“It’s in active collections,” she said. “The collection ratio is good. I know we are very proactive on the collective side.”
In 2012, $6.7 million in fines was collected and about $4.7 million was used to pay the salaries of the 21 people who work in the Provincial Offences Service Unit. About $2 million was shared between communities with Windsor getting $1.1 million and regional communities splitting the rest.
In its efforts to collect fines in 2012, the unit had 5,575 driver’s licences suspended for nonpayment of fines, got 2,469 certificates of default from civil judgments to pursue garnishing wages and received 586 writs of seizure and sale of property for nonpayment of fines.
“Overall we are quite successful,” said Steve Salmons, director of community and development services for Lakeshore, who sits on the steering committee that advises the Provincial Offences Service Unit.
“There isn’t just a pile of money there and there doesn’t appear to be a lot options to get it,” he said. “Of the collection company hired, I’ve heard people say they are too aggressive.”
Lakeshore Coun. Steve Bezaire, who is also a lawyer, said it would be easier to collect the fines if it were from 35 people who owed $1 million each.
“Because of all of the rights given to the accused it can cost a ton to collect $100,” Bezaire said. “It’s not just a matter of getting a judgment. It’s collecting the (judgment amount). In some cases, it’s not so bad an amount and it could be seen as throwing good money after bad.”
Bezaire said there is no easy solution to getting the money, especially if offenders have multiple convictions and don’t have any money.
Sandra Ingratta, director of financial services for the town of Kingsville who also sits on the steering committee for the Provincial Offence Service Unit, said she’s satisfied with the work the unit does.
“The nature of the fine and the dollar value is a difficult receivable to collect,” she said. “My hat is off to (them) for the fines (they) do collect. The nature of the beast is … a lot of work has to go into that.”
Lakeshore Coun. Linda McKinlay suspected that a lot of the drivers that owe fines are probably Americans. No current data is available, but four years ago the head of the unit said U.S. drivers owed about $4 million in fines.
“We need to be like Ohio,” Bezaire said. “You get caught on the highway and the (police) get out the credit card machine.”
Along with unpaid fines, there has been a significant decline in the number of citations issued by all police organizations in the region. Only the Ministry of Transportation has increased the number of citations in the past five years. Salmons said that was probably because of the new weight scales off Highway 401.
LaSalle Police Chief John Leontowicz said the number of citations the department has issued may be down, but, “written warnings are up.”
In 2012 LaSalle police issued 1,698 charges down from 4,477 in 2007. Leontowicz said he has a department policy that officers were not to write a driver multiple citations.
“Who is gaining writing someone three or four tickets?” he said. “Are we educating them? I’ve looked at all this stuff. We’ve taken a softer approach to traffic enforcement and it’s worked. People respect getting a warning instead of a charge.”
He said there is no point in giving a driver $1,000 in citations, especially if they can’t pay it. Leontowicz said he thinks his approach is working as there hasn’t been a traffic fatality in LaSalle in more than 10 years.