In The News › Owe late fees or fines to New Orleans? You’re in luck

Owe late fees or fines to New Orleans? You’re in luck

By Richard Rainey | The Times-Picayune

June 11, 2015

Maybe that parking ticket got wedged in the couch. Maybe you realized too late you needed a building permit for that new balcony. Maybe you forgot to get the proper paperwork to host that block party.

Now there could be some hope. State lawmakers have given New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu power to waive any interest, penalties or collection costs on outstanding debts from fines, fees or other city assessments.

Both houses of the Legislature approved a compromise on House Bill 528 Thursday (June 11), establishing a “municipal revenue amnesty program.” The reason: to encourage scofflaws to pay off their debts by erasing some or all accrued penalties for being late.

Landrieu had pushed for much wider discretion. The original bill, authored by state Rep. Walt Leger III, would have allowed the mayor to erase principle debt on fines and fees, too.

The government watchdog, Bureau of Governmental Research, had advised the administration that this could encourage those who owed money to simply stall on paying until the mayor called for an amnesty period.

In the end, lawmakers reined in the bill, limiting amnesty to penalties, collection costs and interest only. It’s unclear, however, who would be eligible to participate and which fines or fees would qualify under the program.

Under the soon-to-be law, the mayor can call a 60-day amnesty period to collect outstanding city debts. The city finance director would administer the program — or hire an independent contractor to run it — and then produce a report due March 1 the year after the program was implemented. That report would total the number of people and businesses that participated; how much revenue was collected and how much in penalties and interest was waived.

The bill includes all municipal departments as well as the Sewerage & Water Board, and it stipulates that all agencies can “cooperate” during an amnesty program only once every eight years.

But Peter Reichard, research director for BGR, warned the pending law would likely allow Landrieu to call for several amnesty periods on debts owed to City Hall.

“Why does the city feel that it needs to implement its own program any time it wants?” Reichard asked.

“We do not anticipate doing more than one amnesty program in our term, but we believe the city of New Orleans should be able to determine its own timetable for such a program,” said Brad Howard, Landrieu’s spokesman.

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