Broward schools billed toll vi­o­la­tions

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Local - By Scott Travis South Florida Sun-Sen­tinel

Broward County schools have been charged nearly $10,000 for toll vi­o­la­tions from school buses that used the Florida Turn­pike as far back as 2009.

The state sent 34 school dis­trict toll vi­o­la­tions to pri­vate col­lec­tions agen­cies in Novem­ber 2017, and the cases still re­main open nearly a year later.

Four tolls from 2013 orig­i­nally ranged from 75 cents to $1.25 each. Now they’ve bal­looned to $213 each, due to court costs and late fees.

Thirty other tolls were from

2009. On­line records don’t show how much the school buses were sup­posed to pay, but nor­mal toll rates then were $1.50 or less. The state says the dis­trict now owes

$289 for each one.

The to­tal bill for the dis­trict: $9,553 for 34 tolls. The to­tal cost would have likely been less than $50 had they been paid on time.

“I’m at a loss for words. That is un­be­liev­able that this slipped through the cracks,” School Board mem­ber Robin Bartle­man said, adding that Su­per­in­ten­dent Robert Run­cie “needs to look into this im­me­di­ately and rec­tify it.”

Run­cie couldn’t be reached for com­ment, but a spokes­woman for the dis­trict said at least some of the fees were im­prop­erly charged to the dis­trict. Of­fi­cials are ask­ing for more de­tails from SunPass, which man­ages the pre­paid toll pro­gram for the Turn­pike.

“The Dis­trict’s Stu­dent Trans­porta­tion and Fleet Ser­vices Depart­ment works closely with SunPass to re­solve all ver­i­fi­able toll vi­o­la­tions,” dis­trict spokes­woman Cath­leen Bren­nan said. “Some toll vi­o­la­tions ini­tially at­trib­uted to Broward County Pub­lic Schools have been over­turned af­ter re­search re­vealed the ve­hi­cles be­longed to other agen­cies.”

The school dis­trict said the four toll vi­o­la­tions from 2013 were er­rors. One school bus was cited for not pay­ing a

$1.25 toll at the Turn­pike’s Cy­press Creek Plaza in Fort Laud­erdale three times in Au­gust 2013. A sec­ond bus was cited for not pay­ing a 75-cent toll in early Septem­ber.

How­ever, the school dis­trict said both ve­hi­cles had been reg­is­tered to the dis­trict SunPass pre­paid toll ac­count since Jan. 1, 2013.

“No vi­o­la­tions should have oc­curred af­ter [the buses were] added to the Dis­trict’s SunPass ac­count,” Bren­nan said. “The dis­trict is reach­ing out to SunPass re­gard­ing this is­sue.”

The dis­trict could not ex­plain the 30 vi­o­la­tions from

2009.

They in­volved four buses, but the dis­trict said the ve­hi­cle li­cense plate num­bers listed on state records are in­com­plete, leav­ing off the last three dig­its.

“The dis­trict is un­able to re­search this with­out the com­plete li­cense num­ber,” Bren­nan said. She said the dis­trict’s trans­porta­tion depart­ment “is reach­ing out to SunPass to re­quest that it re­search this vi­o­la­tion and pro­vide the dis­trict with ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion.”

Bren­nan said the dis­trict gen­er­ates a pur­chase or­der ev­ery year to pay its monthly SunPass in­voices.

If the dis­trict re­ceives a vi­o­la­tion for a ve­hi­cle that has al­ready been reg­is­tered, “the dis­trict works with SunPass to ad­dress the is­sue.”

But nei­ther the dis­trict nor the state could ex­plain why most of the tolls re­mained un­re­solved for nearly a decade.

The school dis­trict isn’t the only the gov­ern­ment agency to pile up a huge bill from un­paid tolls.

A 2012 au­di­tor’s re­port showed Mi­ami-Dade County Com­mis­sion owed $637,708 in fines and penal­ties. Had the tolls been paid on time, the amount would have been about $20,000, the county com­mis­sion’s au­di­tor wrote. The au­dit said the county was ne­go­ti­at­ing with the state to re­duce the charge.

While the state ex­empts marked law en­force­ment and emer­gency ve­hi­cles from tolls, most gov­ern­ment ve­hi­cles, in­clud­ing school buses, are re­quired to pay them.

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