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EDITORIAL: Fairness demands that errors in disbursement of DUI fine revenue be corrected

York Dispatch
  • Over the last 13 years, $1.5 million in DUI fine revenue has been mistakenly disbursed.
  • The mistake was revealed by York County Clerk of Courts Don O'Shell.
  • Some municipalities have missed out on hundreds of thousands of dollars that is owed to them.
  • Other municipalities have received hundreds of thousands of dollars they were not entitled to.

In any bureaucracy, it’s easy for some small errors to slip through the cracks.

DUI logo

But a $1.5 million mistake spanning 13 years … well that’s a mighty large crack.

Actually, it’s more like a gorge, and unfortunately, municipalities throughout York County have fallen into the fiscal ravine.

According to York County Clerk of Courts Don O’Shell. a snafu in how DUI fine revenue was disbursed to some local municipalities has led to $1.5 million mistakenly going to boroughs and townships that should have received far less — or even nothing. Meanwhile, some shortchanged York County municipalities are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars.

How could this have happened?

Well, 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 (AOPC).

A recent 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.

York County DUI fines: $1.5M went to wrong municipalities

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.

No one wants to point fingers at the culprit in this mess, but it sounds like a glorified computer error. It never should have occurred, but it did. And certainly there needs to be more oversight of the amounts at all levels of government.

The good news is, going forward, the problem should be fixed.

The bad news is, going backwards, the previous disbursement errors must be corrected. 

Not surprisingly, folks have offered differing opinions about how past mistakes can be fixed.

And make no mistake, they must be fixed.

Some municipalities have missed out on hundreds of thousands of dollars that is rightfully owed to them. Other municipalities have received similar amounts that they didn’t deserve.

This situation must be made right. The taxpayers living in the shortchanged municipalities are due nothing less.

Unfortunately, that means the municipalities that were overpaid will need to repay the money they didn’t deserve to get in the first place.

It’s a simple matter of fairness.

Yes, that could place those municipalities in a short-term financial bind, but they also benefited from an undeserved financial windfall for 13 years.

The overpaid municipalities can, and likely will, seek financial redress from the county or the state to make this right, but the ultimate responsibility for repayment should rest with the overpaid municipalities.

That’s certainly not going to be a popular solution, but there likely won’t be any popular solutions in this predicament.

A snafu — a rather large snafu — has been discovered and must be corrected.

Fairness demands nothing less.