Vehicle-related revenue to decline in Costa Mesa

Costa Mesa expects to receive less from parking tickets and other vehicle-related fines this year, possibly because of a smaller police force more focused on crime than traffic enforcement, officials said.

As a result, the city is anticipating to receive $1.5 million — about $350,000 less than the $1.85 million forecast for those revenues in the fiscal year 2011-12, according to city documents.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly used the word negligent instead of negligible in the subheadline.

Specifically, Costa Mesa could be short $200,000 from vehicle code violations and $150,000 from parking tickets.

The decline in fines is partly linked to a drop in police personnel — motorcycle officers, police aides and community service specialists — who issue tickets, according to city and police officials.

"We're finding that some levels of reduced staffing has reduced the amount of parking citations issued in the community," Police Chief Tom Gazsi said.

In addition, police have also seen an uptick in what they define as "Part 1 crimes" — which could constitute rape, burglary, arson, auto theft and aggravated assault — in the past couple months and are focusing their efforts accordingly, said Lt. Rob Sharpnack.

While some may point to the economic downturn and assume some violators are unable to pay fines or are being more vigilant about avoiding citations, Sharpnack said fewer officers working in traffic is the more likely cause.

"There is a small increase in the amount of individuals not paying," he said, "but the cause of the decline is going to be attributed to fewer citations issued."

City spokesman Bill Lobdell said the anticipated reduction in revenue is a small portion of the city's $95-million general fund for fiscal year 2011-12, adding that the city can make up the difference with higher-than-expected revenue from hotel taxes and savings from employing a smaller workforce.

City services will not be affected, he said.

The decline appears to be part of a recent trend.

In fiscal year 2008-09, the city pulled in more than $2.3 million in traffic-related fines, with a decline to about $2 million in fiscal year 2009-10 and another decline to about $1.47 million in 2010-11.

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