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Audit: Millions of dollars uncollected by city

July 1, 2010 7:48:53 PM PDT
A new audit released Thursday says Los Angeles is missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars because it's failing to collect half of its parking-ticket fines and other fees. This as the city's new budget went into effect Thursday, triggering hundreds of layoffs. When a resident gets a parking ticket, part of the money eventually ends up in the city's bank account and helps pay someone's salary.

When the fire department ambulance takes you or someone you know to the hospital it can charge you a fee that goes to the city.

False alarms answered by the police, a false alarm fee.

Just the uncollected parking fines and $143.5 million. The emergency medical services charges? Nearly $91 million uncollected. It's a total of $260 million uncollected.

"Fifty-three percent overall -- that's a staggering figure," said L.A. City Controller Wendy Greuel. "I don't know if any business would stand for that low rate of collection."

Greuel's office audited the city-bill collection. With layoffs and cuts the city has trimmed a $1-billion deficit. If the fines had been collected, Thursday's layoffs might have been avoided

"Were we doing collections and billing correctly, we would have saved enough money that these layoffs would absolutely not be necessary," said L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz.

The mayor hadn't seen the audit yet Thursday, but promised action.

"When you look at the size of the deficit we've faced over the last three years, collections would just be a small part, though as I said, an important enough part that we're going to look at these recommendations and see what we could do to recapture and recover more money," said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

L.A. City Fire Chief Millage Peaks says until now all the billing has been paper, but that's changing to computers.

"Paramedics will basically push a 'transmit' button, which will electronically encrypt that information," said Peaks. "It will go to our billing contractor and hopefully before they get out of the hospital that bill will be waiting for them in the mailbox when they get home."

And for the department heads that don't collect, Koretz wants some punishments

"They need to know that their budgets will be reduced by a percentage of what they're short, because I think some of these departments have historically been much too lackadaisical," said Koretz.

There's a probability of continuing deficits and more layoffs in the coming months.