Old software blamed for city's failure to collect $17.6M in parking fines

Long Beach, California's auditor urges the city to update its software

Traffic-law violators in Long Beach, California, have gotten to keep a little more money in their wallets, as the municipality has failed to collect US$17.6 million in outstanding parking violation fees due to an "antiquated" software system, according to a report released this week by city auditor Laura Doud.

"Staff time is consumed with manual processes, research and reconciliations surrounding parking citations billing and collecting because the existing system is antiquated," Doud's report said. "This results in limited collection efforts."

Long Beach and the city of Pasadena, California, are the only two customers still using this specific version of the AutoProcess system, which is developed by Duncan Solutions, according to the report. "At some point, the vendor will likely discontinue support."

While Long Beach has limited resources, "it is imperative the City begins planning now to upgrade the software or procure a new system," Doud's report added.

Duncan Solutions could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday.

Long Beach processes nearly 350,000 citations each year, generating $13 million in revenue during its fiscal 2011. However, that figure dropped significantly from 2009, when parking authorities pulled in $15.7 million.

The city has used AutoProcess since 2000, according to the report. A lack of ongoing maintenance on the system has contributed to the city's parking-fine collection woes.

Since 2000, "the database was not cleansed to eliminate old, incorrect or uncollectible citations," slowing AutoProcess down "considerably" and making its output less reliable, Doud's audit stated.

While IT staff recently finished a data-cleansing project on the system, the lack of automated tools for such tasks in AutoProcess required "significant" city resources to get the job done, it added.

In addition, AutoProcess isn't integrated with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, meaning that information about who owns a particular vehicle has to be manually loaded into AutoProcess, it stated.

"During the time that a citation remains unpaid, the vehicle owner, address or license plate may change or the vehicle could be salvaged," the audit report said. "Without an automatic interface to DMV data, the City has no way of knowing if these changes occur. This directly affects the City's ability to collect outstanding tickets."

Vehicle owners with five or more unpaid parking tickets are labeled "scofflaws" by Long Beach and are subject to being towed, according to the report. However, a check of 200 scofflaws based on information from AutoProcess found that 86 percent of the records "did not accurately reflect the vehicles current registered owner."

Other problems with AutoProcess include weak reporting functionality, according to Doud's office. "Basic reports, such as total citations billed, collection rates, or total citations voided, are not available."

Long Beach pays about $15,000 in annual maintenance fees for the software but that money only covers its core features, and not help from Duncan Solutions to add new functionality, according to the audit.

In a response to Doud's audit, the city's financial management department largely echoed the concerns it raised and agreed that it should be replaced.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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