Audit: Amnesty program for CCC tolls cost state $225,000

An amnesty program aimed at getting motorists to cough up the cash they owed for Crescent City Connection toll violations cost Louisiana almost $225,000 more than it brought in, according to a report from the state Legislative Auditor’s Office.

The report, which examined how funds from the CCC tolls have been used since the tolls ended last year, also found nearly $6.6 million remained unclaimed in an account set up to refund money to motorists who used Geaux Pass toll tags at the end of December, the period looked at during the audit.

The two programs were part of an effort to close the books on the CCC tolls, which ended last year after voters rejected a proposal to extend them for another 20 years. A set of bills passed after that election aimed to refund money remaining on Geaux Pass accounts and provide a way for motorists to have fees and fines on toll violations waived if they paid the tolls owed. The bills also dedicated the rest of the money in the CCC’s accounts to funds largely aimed at running the since-privatized ferries in the New Orleans area.

All told, the Crescent City Connection Division had about $31.3 million available at the end of last year, about $12.8 million of which went back to the state Transportation Department for bridge and marine program operations. Much of the rest was spent on previously planned projects, with about $6.9 million going to a transition fund set up when the tolls expired.

Officials are required to use about $4 million of the transition fund for improvements or replacement of the ferries, an amount that could be bolstered if it is used to draw down federal money. Another $1.7 million of the money in the fund will go to Veolia Transportation — which runs the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority and took over the ferries earlier this year — to help subsidize the ferry operations.

Part of the transition plan was an effort to collect money from motorists who had past toll violations by dropping any fines and fees they had incurred. That program brought in about $128,700 for the two months it was in operation, but it cost about $353,300 to put the program in place once postage on notifications and the labor required to analyze records and prepare those notifications were taken into account, according to the report.

A program put under State Treasurer John Kennedy to refund the remaining balances on Geaux Pass accounts returned about $713,000 to account holders, according to the report. But that left about $6.6 million remaining in unclaimed balances.

That money is still considered unclaimed property and can be claimed until June 30. More information on that program is available at refundthetolls.com. At the beginning of July, the remaining unclaimed money will be split between funds to help operate the New Orleans area ferries and the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission.

State Sen. David Heitmeier, D-Algiers, has filed a bill this year aimed at refunding part of the money collected during the amnesty. Senate Bill 500 would allow those who participated in the amnesty to get the money they paid back if they had fewer than five violations or if they had a valid toll tag and received a violation “through no fault of (their) own.” It would also prevent the Transportation Department from trying to collect money from those who had toll tags but received violation notices anyway.

That program would run through December 2015.

The report also noted a contract for $465,900 in repair work was not properly advertised on the Transportation Department’s website, a violation of state law. In a response to the audit, officials said that was an isolated incident.