Call it a scofflaw head tax.
Regulatory changes at the provincial level have put Norfolk County in a position to reap a $1 million windfall.
At issue is the province’s plan to tie driver’s licence and licence plate renewals to paid-up traffic fines.
As it stands, outstanding arrears for unpaid traffic fines in Norfolk total about $1.4 million. During its budget deliberations in January, staff said the county could expect belated payment of about $100,000 this year in this area.
However – now that the Ministry of Transportation is about to tie fine payment to plate and licence renewal – arrears payments in 2017 could be much higher than expected.
Norfolk council was delighted with the news last Tuesday night.
“If people want their licence renewed, they’re going to have to pay their fines,” Windham Coun. Jim Oliver said. “While it’s unpleasant to be hard on offenders, if they did the crime they’ll have to pay the fine.”
Norfolk County has come a long way in a short period of time on the fine arrears file.
In January, council despaired when it learned that total arrears for all provincial offences fines in Norfolk totalled $5.4 million. The $1.4 million at issue is related to Highway Traffic Act violations.
When the province downloaded responsibility for collecting provincial fines in 1998, the total amount outstanding in the Norfolk area – including Traffic Act violations – totalled $1.85 million.
Jan. 17, council directed Mayor Charlie Luke to write a letter encouraging Queen’s Park to come up with measures that would reduce the arrears account. The same week council discussed the matter, MTO signalled its intention to do just that through the plate- and licence-renewal process.
The Ministry of Transportation currently denies licence plate renewal to motorists with unpaid parking tickets and unpaid red-light camera fines.
In May, plate denial will extend to unpaid fines under the Highway Traffic Act related to speeding, careless driving and other road-related offences.
The county isn’t totally satisfied with what MTO has suggested. Under the new regime, the licence and plate denial policy would only extend to fines seven years of age or newer.
As well, tickets written against jointly-owned vehicles and vehicles belonging to companies would be exempt.
The Municipal Court Managers’ Association of Ontario has objections to this that Norfolk supports.
“The regulations will permit suspended drivers who share joint ownership of a plate to continue to drive suspended and relatively undetected,” MCMA president Valerie Carty said in a recent letter commenting on the proposed changes. “This is counter-intuitive to the efforts made by law enforcement who work diligently to keep Ontario’s roads safer.”
Carty pointed out that joint owners of other types of property are liable for all debts incurred by their partners. Carty says it is arbitrary to exempt jointly-owned vehicles when there are outstanding fines against a specific plate number.
“The public has long accepted that joint liability goes along with joint interest in ownership,” Carty writes. “When two or more people own a home, they are usually each liable for costs associated with that ownership, including mortgages or any lien placed against such property.”
Last Tuesday, Norfolk council directed Mayor Charlie Luke to write a letter to MTO and the Ministry of the Attorney-General supporting Carty’s positions.
Unpaid fines related to Provincial Offences legislation are a problem across Ontario. In a report submitted to council last week, Norfolk staff said total arrears for fines related to the Provincial Offences Act total $1.6 billion.
Source: Simcoe Reformer