The Civil Grand Jury of Santa Barbara County released a report Tuesday illuminating “uncertainty” in the Sheriff’s Office parking citation program, which makes it more difficult for the public to pay tickets on time. The problems stem from inefficiencies in an outdated contract between the law enforcement agency and a private vendor tasked with processing the citations, according to the Grand Jury’s investigation.
Chief among the Grand Jury’s findings is that the “lag time” between the Sheriff’s Office submitting the citations to the vendor and the vendor entering them into the online payment system causes some paid parking tickets to remain unprocessed. In the worst case scenario, said the report, a resident mails the vendor a check for a $35-$75 parking ticket within the allotted 21-day window of time, but the payment sits unprocessed for days or weeks. Accruing late fees up to $257, the bill is sent to a debt collection agency and lowers the resident’s credit score. The report doesn’t list the number of tickets that have racked up late fees or been sent to a debt collection agency.
Although citations may be paid through the vendor’s online payment company, which resembles PayPal, “the vendor is not consistent in entering citation information into its database in a timely manner,” states the report. Each day, Sheriff’s Office staff help customers whose tickets have not been listed online. Employees must check the master citation list by hand and request the vendor enter the specific ticket. In addition, citations may not be paid in person or with cash, barring some residents who use cash for all their transactions from ever clearing the ticket. The Jury lists “ … the use of unnecessary Sheriff’s Office staff hours and the risk to the [agency’s] reputation” as further risks of the current program.
Attempts by the law enforcement agency to renew its contract — expired in 2013 — with the vendor have failed in part “due to a lack of response to a request for insurance documentation from the vendor,” said the report, as well as “lack of follow through” by the Sheriff’s Office. Calling for review of the contract, evaluation of the vendor, and establishment of a pay-by-cash option, the Grand Jury gave the Sheriff’s Office two months to respond.
“The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office has received the Grand Jury’s report and is reviewing its findings. We will respond within the allotted time,” Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Kelly Hoover told The Santa Barbara Independent.