Lafayette council defers vote on amnesty program

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Cleanup work continues Monday afternoon at the Recycling Foundation in Lafayette after a weekend fire at the center.
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Cleanup work continues Monday afternoon at the Recycling Foundation in Lafayette after a weekend fire at the center.

The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday deferred a vote on an amnesty program for delinquent parking and traffic camera tickets.

In other business, council Chairman Brandon Shelvin proposed a local ordinance that would bar any new recycling facilities from locating in Lafayette Parish. The proposal comes after a major weekend fire at the Recycling Foundation off of University Avenue — the second fire at the facility since 2010.

The amnesty measure would have given drivers until April 30 to pay nearly 29,000 past-due parking and traffic camera tickets before the start of a tougher collection policy that calls for lawsuits to recover the unpaid fines.

The council voted unanimously to hold off moving forward on the amnesty program over questions about whether the private contractor overseeing the automated traffic camera enforcement program, Redflex Traffic Systems, would share in revenue from any past-due fines that city-parish government won in court.

Under its contract, Redflex receives 40 percent of the fine for any traffic camera tickets paid on time and city-parish government receives 60 percent.

The decision to delay a vote of the collection issues came after Councilman William Theriot raised questions about whether Redflex would get the same cut even after city-parish government paid the legal expenses to pursue the unpaid fines in court.

City-Parish Attorney Mike Hebert initially said he believed city-parish government would be entitled to the full amount of fines and penalties pursued in court, but then, after a quick review of the city’s contract with Redflex, he said the private company might have a claim for some of the fines.

Hebert said he would look into the issue and report back promptly to the council.

City-parish officials say the goal of the amnesty program is to offer an incentive for drivers to pay delinquent fines before city-parish government has to spend the money to take them to court. Those drivers who take advantage of the offer could pay delinquent fines without penalties for late payment.

Hebert told council members on Tuesday that lawsuits would be pursued as soon as the amnesty period expires, likely farming out the work to attorneys who would take on large batches of cases and take a portion of whatever was won in court as their compensation.

The number of unpaid parking tickets and traffic camera violations totals 28,769 for the past three years — 11,843 parking tickets and 16,926 red light and speeding violations under the city’s automated traffic camera enforcement program, according to figures from city-parish government.

That’s about $2 million in fines that has gone uncollected, plus another $1 million in penalties for late payment, according to the figures.

The recycling facility issue was up for discussion Tuesday following a major weekend fire that tore through metal storage buildings at the Recycling Foundation, which has the contract to handle recycling for Lafayette.

“This fire started Saturday afternoon and we didn’t leave the site until this morning,” Lafayette Fire Chief Robert Benoit told council members on Tuesday.

Benoit said the facility, where bales of recycled materials are often stacked high, has been closed pending an investigation of what sparked the fire and what could be done to prevent any future fires.

The facility was the site of another fire in 2010.

Shelvin, who lives near the recycling facility, said smoke from the recent fire was “so thick to where you couldn’t see homes.”

He raised questions about the health impacts of the smoke and whether the recycling facility was complying with city fire codes.

Benoit said it was too early in the investigation to know the cause of the fire or whether there were any fire code violations.

Shelvin asked the council staff to prepare an ordinance that would prohibit any new recycling facilities in Lafayette Parish, though he did not call for the law to be retroactive to apply to existing facilities.

Recycling pick-up is scheduled continue, despite the fire, with materials transported and processed off site.

In other business, the council voted unanimously to name Council Assistant Clerk Veronica Williams as the new council clerk, effective April 28.

Current Council Clerk Norma Dugas is retiring after serving in the position since 2001.