December 1, 2021

An alternative to tickets

Traffic diversion program could bring in $300K to Cortland County

S.N. Briere/staff reporter

Cortland City Police Officer Joseph Peters pulls over a man on Main Street for failing to yield the right of way and for having an obstructed license plate in October, both traffic infractions. File photo from October 2019.

Cortland County District Attorney Patrick Perfetti says he will no longer be able to prosecute traffic tickets unless the county creates a traffic diversion program.

However, if the county does create the program — and hire someone to administer it — it could bring the county up to $300,000 a year in new income, he said.

“The reason it (the program and position) will help is because all of the changes in the criminal justice legislation this year,” Perfetti said Tuesday.

The county sees about 40,000 vehicle and traffic tickets a year, but with new state legislation going into effect Jan. 1, the District Attorney’s office will need to provide discovery — evidence — in every single traffic case, something that wasn’t done before and would require hiring five new people.

Of the fines collected, 53 percent goes to the state, 42 percent goes to the town court and 5 percent goes to the county. Under the new program, none would go to the state. The county could keep it all, or share it with municipalities.

A traffic diversion program would give drivers a choice: face the ticket and the state-imposed fine — and points on their license — or go through the program. It would be offered to people ticketed for speeding, not wearing a seat belt, using a cell phone or similar violations to take a six-hour course — for a minimum $200 fee — and end up with no fine, surcharge or conviction record. Income from the fee would go to the county, instead of the state, which the county could decide to share with the municipalities where the ticket was given.

Upon completing the course, in a classroom or online, the person would send in a copy of the certificate of completion to the district attorney’s office to eliminate the ticket, and can send the original to their insurance agency to get their premiums reduced.

The program would be overseen by an administrator — a position he has requested, but legislators haven’t committed to funding. Perfetti said the position is essential to running the program, and could be funded through program revenue.

Legislator Kelly Preston (R-Homer) said she would like to see some of the money go to the municipalities, and a subcommittee that has been looking at the program will meet at noon Tuesday in the Cortland County Office Building to review information on the program and set a date to discuss the program with town supervisors.

Eventually, Preston said, the meetings will culminate with a proposal for the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee on creating the program — but not necessarily the administrator position.

Preston said the position still has to be discussed and issues regarding civil service status must be figured out.

“We did this quite a long time ago it just never took off,” she said, noting she hopes to move this along, but has no timeline for action.

Perfetti said he cannot operate the program without the administrator.

However, without the position, Perfetti’s office would need to go through the discovery process, and Perfetti said he doesn’t have the staff for that, either. He would need to see if municipal attorneys would handle the cases and if not attorneys, then police officers. However, evidence must be certified and he doesn’t believe police are qualified to do that, even if they have the staff.

“If I don’t have the staff to do, it I’m not certain the police departments have the staff to do it,” he said.
Perfetti analyzed two trial periods in Cortlandville — the busiest traffic court in the county — and estimated the county could bring in $300,000 or more. Both trials presumed all motorists took part and participated at the lowest fee schedule.

“I’m reticent to give you more exact numbers on what I think the program will produce only because it is a prototype for our county,” Perfetti had said.

The idea for the program came from Chenango County, where Chenango County District Attorney Joseph McBride instituted it last year.