York County DUI fines: $1.5M went to wrong municipalities
A 13-year snafu in how DUI fine revenue was disbursed to some municipalities in York County has led to more than $1.5 million mistakenly going to boroughs and townships that should have received far less — or even nothing, according to York County Clerk of Courts Don O'Shell.
Some shortchanged York County municipalities are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars, O'Shell said.
And at this point officials with the state, county and local municipalities have offered differing opinions about how the past mistakes can be fixed.
O'Shell said DUI fine distribution in York County has been fixed moving forward. The issue, he said, is how to make already-shortchanged municipalities whole.
The largest error was the disbursement of a total of $924,742 to Paradise Township since 2004 for DUI arrests made by Northern York County Regional Police, according to records provided to The York Dispatch by O'Shell.
In Pennsylvania, half of the fines collected in impaired-driving criminal cases go back to the municipalities of the police departments that made the arrests — or, if regional police departments made the arrests, to the municipalities where the offenses occurred, said Russel Montchal, assistant IT Department director for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
Paradise gained: Paradise Township was entitled to just a fraction of that nearly $1 million, according to an AOPC review that was emailed to the York County Clerk of Courts Office on Dec. 13.
Since 2004 Manchester Township should have received $469,769 of that amount, and Dover Township should have received $181,818 of it, the email states.
Jackson Township should have received $84,663; North York should have been disbursed $69,692; Conewago Township was supposed to receive $50,017; and Dover Borough should have been disbursed $31,326, according to the email.
Other municipalities should have received lesser amounts from Northern Regional's DUI arrests, ranging from $21,528 for Franklin Township to $113 for Manchester Borough, the email states.
Paradise Township officials did not return messages seeking comment.
A review found DUI fine disbursements weren't accurate for municipalities served by Northern Regional Police, Southern Regional Police and West Manchester Township, according to O'Shell.
He said this has been ongoing for 13 years, since York County began using the state's standardized criminal case-management system.
O'Shell explained that county clerks of court offices across the state are responsible for using the AOPC's system to send out DUI fine monies to municipalities, and they use the AOPC's distribution lists to determine how much to send to which borough or township.
O'Shell said he's still checking on DUI reimbursements generated by Southwestern Regional Police and said he has so far found no problems regarding municipalities in the jurisdictions of York Area Regional Police and Northeastern Regional Police.
West Manchester: The second largest error in York County's DUI fine disbursements involves West Manchester Township, according to O'Shell.
The township should have received roughly $480,000, he said, but instead New Salem Borough was disbursed the entire amount.
It was Andrew Shaffer who brought the issue to light, according to O'Shell.
Shaffer has been Spring Grove's borough manager for a decade, and in April he also took on the role of borough secretary for New Salem.
Several months ago, after Shaffer started depositing New Salem checks, he realized the DUI fine disbursements "were in the neighborhood of $3,000 to $5,000 a month," he said.
"In Spring Grove, we were lucky to get $300 a month," Shaffer said. "So it raised a red flag for me and I asked around."
West Manchester Township manager Kelly Kelch said he was shocked and that the township's solicitor is now involved. The township is seeking the money it's owed, plus 3 percent interest, officials said.
Shaffer said New Salem's officials are concerned, "but we feel strongly that it's an issue the county needs to figure out."
Statewide issue? Shaffer said he notified O'Shell's office two or three months ago about the problem, and O'Shell said that's when he started to look into the issue and alerted AOPC.
"I have some colleagues (in other counties) who won't even look at it because they're afraid of what they'll find," O'Shell said. "I think there's probably a greater degree of it going on than what may be known."
AOPC spokeswoman Stacey Witalic said the problem isn't statewide.
"The (unified AOPC) system has been in operation for many years," she said. "We actually heard from other counties after this was discovered in York County."
Other counties have reported finding similar problems years ago, but they were fixed, Witalic said.
Montchal said his office gets phone calls routinely from county court offices when computer problems arise and confirmed some counties have now asked AOPC to pull their DUI fine disbursal reports, just to check.
AOPC response: "This is the first time an issue has been raised that's tracked back 12 or 13 years," he said. "It's kind of shocking that it's (continued this long). ... We expect that counties are checking details about the checks they're signing."
Cumberland County also had an issue, he confirmed, but said that it has been resolved.
Cumberland County Clerk of Courts Denny Lebo told The York Dispatch that since 2004, Shippensburg Township received about $65,000 in DUI fines that should have gone to Shippensburg Borough. It's been fixed going forward, Lebo said.
It's unclear how the AOPC's computerized system was initially fed information that misdirected York County-bound DUI fines, but in York County that clearly happened in 2004. State and county officials say no one wants to point fingers.
O'Shell and Lebo say they can't find evidence they ever provided information to AOPC regarding which municipalities get which police departments' fine revenue.
Montchal said he isn't sure who is responsible for the skewed data.
Who pays? The AOPC and O'Shell say they suspect it will be the responsibility of the municipalities that erroneously received fine money to reimburse municipalities that were shortchanged.
"If $100,000 shows up in your bank account, you're not allowed to spend it," Montchal noted. "And if you did spend some of it, you're responsible for it."
But local officials, including West Manchester Township's Kelch, argue the mistake was made when the checks were cut in the York County Clerk of Courts Office and that therefore it's up to York County to make shortchanged municipalities whole.
Montchal said he doesn't understand how small municipalities didn't notice they were getting large monthly checks for more than a dozen years or how the mistake wasn't caught years ago.
"I think these townships and boroughs will have to work with each other," he predicted.
Discussion expected: Dover Township Manager Laurel Oswalt said the roughly $182,000 the township should have received could have been spent on roads, the police department, township parks and administration. She said township supervisors will discuss the issue at their Jan. 8 meeting.
Manchester Township manager Timothy James said he called the township's solicitor and the chair of the township supervisors last week, as soon as he learned about the problem.
"How do we move forward from here? We certainly are willing to listen to what the county is going to say and what remedies can occur," James said. "It's an interesting dilemma for sure. ... We're all ears."
James said Manchester Township's DUI revenue numbers actually increased from 2003 to 2004, then remained consistent, so "nothing really jumped out."
Southern split: The third-largest issue is with DUI fine revenue generated by Southern Regional Police, according to documents provided by O'Shell.
Since 2004, Shrewsbury Borough has erroneously received $109,033 of it. Of that revenue, New Freedom should have received $51,117; Glen Rock should have received $38,421; and smaller municipalities were due lesser amounts, according to documents.
Shrewsbury Borough Secretary/Treasurer Cindy Bosley said the borough was just made aware of the issue and is investigating.
"We have no answers at this point," she said. "We have to investigate — that's all we can do at this point."
Attorney Steve Hovis, solicitor for New Freedom, said he was notified last week of the issue.
"We'll have to look at it and see where we go," Hovis said.
County response: York County solicitor Glenn Smith said O'Shell's office notified the county about the issue on Nov. 22.
"The AOPC is in the process of investigating this matter and will be providing us recommendations in the near future," he said. "At that point, we will determine what the next steps are."
Smith said if it's determined that York County should take the lead on making shortchanged municipalities whole, the county likely has insurance to cover it.
Kelch said the county's number-one priority should be reimbursing affected municipalities.
"I don't care whose fault it is, and I'm not in this to point fingers," he said. "But I need the funds that are owed to us."
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.