Thursday, March 31, 2011

I'm Just Saying it Ain't Right, Okay?

So my son Marco brings me something called a Surcharge Notification a few weeks ago. That's something dreamt up here in Texas--and it may exist elsewhere as well--whereby if you accumulate three moving violations in your car over a three year period, you not only pay for the tickets, but you pay a nifty little $150 or so on top of it for having had those three speeding tickets.
Well, okay, I didn't pay it much attention because last year Marco got the same thing and I paid it in exchange for him doing some work around the house.
Yesterday, in an effort to avoid looming deadlines--I like to call it ruminating about the story I have to get out--I was going through the "need to take a look at someday" pile of mail on my desk and there it was. I figured it was a duplicate of last year's notification, so I dug out the previously paid notification and called the outfit that sent it to tell them it had already been paid.
That outfit, Municipal Service Bureau, isn't actually a local government agency but an outsourced private company hired to collect bills for the city. Calling them was easy: I waited through the push-button automated options to get to the option where I could talk with someone to explain that the bill had been paid and that I'd begrudgingly send them the paid receipts if they needed them.
Getting through to a live person took some patience: I got on the phone at 11:45 and didn't get a person till 1:15. That was a lot of patience, but as the company has no address, it wasn't like I could go somewhere (their PO Box is Austin, about 3 hours south of here) in person. I mean, you can't just wait by a PO Box and talk with the person who picks up the mail. I guess you could follow that person back to wherever they bring the mail and try to talk to someone there, but that might get you arrested for stalking. So I waited and finally got to talk with someone.
In the meantime, I'd gotten Marco's full driving record: he had two speeding tickets in 2007, one in 2009 and nothing before or after that. The two in 2007 were in the same neighborhood and three days apart: I think they happened as he and his first real girlfriend were breaking up. In any event, he had nothing since then.
"This is Melissa at MSB. How can I help you?"
"Hello. Finally. Thanks. I have a small problem here."
I explained the notice and that I'd already paid the surcharge. She listened patiently.
"What you might not know is that you pay the surcharge every year all over again for three years," she said.
"Let's say you have three tickets this year. You pay the surcharge next year. But the two following years you would still have six points on your license so you pay the surcharge again. Even though you already paid it. It encourages good driving."
"Three years?"
"That's right. Anything else?"
"Well," I said, looking at Marco's driving record. "Two of those tickets came in May, 2007. If they peel off after three years then he's only got the 2009 ticket."
"That's impossible. Unless he didn't pay the tickets until 2008. When did he pay the tickets?"
To my dismay, he paid both of them in 2008, months after he'd gotten them.
"Yeah, well you see, in that case the tickets counted for 2007 AND for 2008, because the conviction happened the time he paid them. And that's in the 2008, 2009 and 2010 cycle of three years. Anything else I can help you with? Oh, and by the way, the surcharge was due no later than March 24, so if it's not paid by April 7 his license is automatically suspended and driving with a suspended license is not only a $250 fine, it's also two points towards next years's surcharge. And he's already got two points from the 2009 speeding ticket. Have a nice day."
Dang! I'm just saying it ain't right, okay? Only in Texas, where the people rail against big government while their pockets are being picked.

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