Tag Archives: fines

City scofflaws to face the boot


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

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Motorists with multiple parking tickets might soon find a pesky boot anchored to their car wheel as the city revs up to roll out its wheel lock program.

The initiative, set to begin in north Brooklyn on Monday, June 25 and spread to the outer boroughs over the summer, targets scofflaw vehicles – those with an exorbitant amount of unpaid fines against them. City marshals, currently responsible for towing cars with outstanding tickets totaling over $350 will continue to operate separately from Paylock, the new-program proliferators.

Paylock was selected by the Bloomberg administration for the no-bid pilot program, expected to rake in $70 million for the city. Employees from the New Jersey based business can scan for cars with unpaid fines using automated license-plate-reading software, sweeping blocks in seconds. Once they get a hit, workers strap a lock to the whip’s wheel. Motorists must call the company and fork over their fines via credit card. Paylock then gives the driver a pin number to be entered into the boot’s keypad, releasing the contraption.

The motorist is responsible for paying a $180 boot fee, $70 to the city and a five percent surcharge, as well as all acquired ticket fines. Along with the Paylock-administered fees, the driver must return the boot within 24 hours or otherwise face additional charges of $25 every day until it is brought back to a designated location.

A spokesperson from the Department of Finances (DOF) called the program “a more efficient, more customer friendly method of collecting outstanding parking fines,” mainly because it erases the confusion and worry incited upon discovering your car has been towed.

The spokesperson claimed that a motorist whose car has been towed pays an average of $306 to reclaim their vehicle, not including parking fines incurred prior to towing. With a booting program, the spokesperson alleged, drivers will owe about seven percent less on average in fees to have the boot removed.

As the city gears up to reboot the plan, tow truck companies and their contractors fear they may be flattened by the monopoly of the program’s city-picked proprietor.

John Hughes, an Astoria resident who works for a city Marshall Program, fears the new initiative will leave contractors like him out of a job, estimating that around 200 people will be forced out of work.

“They’ll do business exclusively with one tow-truck company,” said Hughes. “You’ll pay $600 to $1000 more for something that costs nothing except for your tickets.”

Hughes fears the program could cause public safety issues, arguing when more than one car on a street is booted, it could prohibit a fire truck or ambulance from accessing a place or person in need.

He added that western Queens will struggle the most with this, predominantly due to previously present parking problems.

- Additional reporting by Phil Hertling

 

Health Department fines frustrate Queens restaurant owners


| bdoda@queenscourier.com

Photo by Bob Doda

While the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) officials are cleaning up restaurants throughout the city, restaurant owners are claiming their wallets are being cleaned out at the same time.

Starting in July 2010, the DOHMH made it a requirement for restaurant owners to post the letter grade results of their sanitary inspection.

The grading system is intended to bolster aptitude toward being as clean as possible, but many restaurant owners believe that the frequency of inspections and number of fines received are becoming increasingly unfair.

According to the DOHMH web site, when a restaurant improves between initial inspections, the department reviews it less frequently.
“In about a year, they came three times even though we had an ‘A,’” said Dina Amatuccio, manager of Cascarino’s in Bayside. “The codes change and they don’t tell us. It’s aggravating because they come here when it’s really busy and it takes away from being able to pay attention to the customers. It’s annoying.”

Other restaurant owners in Bayside reported similar experiences with inspectors who, according to the DOHMH, are randomly assigned to specific eateries. One owner said that while an inspector may be paying attention to one area of violations, the next will concentrate on something completely different. A DOHMH spokesperson said that fines usually range from $200 to $2,000 based on severity of violations.

“We are just trying to survive here,” said one Bayside owner, also displaying an ‘A’ in his front window.

He said that despite the grade, he has had to pay violations twice over the past six months.

“The way they change the rules, I had to hire a guy just to make sure everything is perfect. I know they are trying to look out for the customer, but they should be more worried about places that have ‘B’ or ‘C’ ratings.”

Inspection cycles are individual to each restaurant, based on its pattern of cleanliness, according to the DOHMH. Some inspections are based on customers’ complaints or re-inspections from prior violations.
“The overarching goal of the restaurant letter grading program is transparency and food safety, not revenue or fines,” said a DOHMH spokesperson. “The Department is now inspecting restaurants that perform at ‘C’ grade levels about three times each year, ‘B’s twice, and ‘A’s, once per year. Each time a restaurant improves its score on its initial inspections, it can reduce the frequency with which it is inspected, and thereby decrease its potential to incur violations and pay fines.”

One Long Island City restaurant owner who received a ‘B’ inspection grade believes that the system is too ambiguous for customers to understand.

“They see a low letter grade and they automatically think the restaurant is dirty,” said the owner. “We have a ‘B’ because we didn’t have the appropriate paperwork on file. Consumers see the grade and they think the worst . . . Personally, I like the grading system. I think restaurants should put out high-quality food that is safe for the public and is held to a certain standard. I thought it was great until I saw the way they were doing it. They come in for an inspection, find something, fine you and then another inspector comes in and doesn’t inspect what the last guy inspected. He just finds something new and fines you for it.”

During the 2011 fiscal year, revenue collected for fines from food service establishments reached $42.5 million dollars, according to the DOHMH. The Health Department anticipates a five percent reduction in fines collected each year for the next two years going forward.

In January, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a fine relief program designed to reward those who got an ‘A’ grade on initial and re-inspections with no fines.

Still, restaurant owners have a different take on inspections.

“I think there’s a lot of miscommunication on the inspector’s end,” said Chris Evans, co-owner of Press 195 in Bayside with an ‘A’ grade. “You’ll get a story that something is wrong and we’ll correct it. Then, another inspector will come and say that’s not how it should be done. You’ll be told to do one thing and they fine you for it the next time.”

“Inspectors are really going rogue at this point,” said the previously-mentioned Long Island City restaurant owner. “I think the bottom line is that the city needs money . . . for us small places, these fines are killing us.”

Restaurant grades throughout the city, including all recorded violations as well as statistics from the first year of grading implementation, can be found by visitingwww.nyc.gov/health.

–With additional reporting by Melissa Chan and Steve Mosco

Queens’ Morning Round Up – 10/13/2011: Sheehan taken into custody


| jlane@queenscourier.com

The Round Up

Barbara Sheehan taken into custody on gun conviction

Barbara Sheehan may have dodged a bullet (pun very much intended) by beating the murder charge, but she couldn’t get around the gun charge. Yesterday afternoon Sheehan reported to Queens Supreme Court where she was taken into custody for criminal gun possession, a charge in which she faces 2 ½ to 15 years in prison. Sheehan’s defense team says they are filing an appeal for the charge. Read more: Queens Courier

 

 

Police looking for men suspected in Queens burglaries

Two men in their 20′s are suspected in 5 separate incidents, dating back to August 14, when the pair allegedly broke into a Checkers at 83-45 Parsons Blvd. and took an unknown amount of cash. To add insult to injury the pair returned a month later and robbed the same Checkers and got away with cash and a 2002 Ford van. Read more: CBS News

 

New York City teens protest New York Police Department’s stop and frisk policy

Hundreds of teens from all 5 boroughs held a protest on the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday. The protestors were making a statement about the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy. Many of the protestors say that they have been stopped by the NYPD upwards of 20 times due to their ethnicity and that the policy allows for racial profiling to run rampant. Read More: Daily News

 

 

Ex-Narcotics officer admits guilt in Elmhurst coke sale

Ex-Detective Stephen Anderson admitted in Brooklyn Supreme Court this week that he had given another undercover officer 2 bags of cocaine in January 2008. The cocaine wasn’t for the undercover’s personal use but was instead used to frame 4 Elmhurst men on drug sale charges. Read more: New York Post

 

Health Department fines frustrate Queens restaurant owners

While the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) officials are cleaning up restaurants throughout the city, restaurant owners are claiming their wallets are being cleaned out at the same time. The grading system is intended to bolster aptitude toward being as clean as possible, but many restaurant owners believe that the frequency of inspections and number of fines received are becoming increasingly unfair. Read More: Queens Courier