Bark's Bites: Pay Your Tickets on Time

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth

It’s a constant theme of my life, one that I keep expecting to “outgrow,” yet I never seem to do so: I let things grow from molehills into mountains by failing to take care of them properly at the onset. For example, I won myself an extra $1,800 in fines this year by paying the Commonwealth of Kentucky their pound of tax flesh a few months late. Ouch.

And when I got my first speeding ticket in quite some time (well, at least a year) in Georgia last February on my way to the American Endurance Racing race in Road Atlanta—and then another about a month later in Fayette County, Kentucky — I just kinda forgot to pay them. They were both relatively small tickets — one for 10 over and another for 15 over. It’s not like I didn’t have the money, or like I haven’t had dozens of free hours since then to log on to the Gwinnett County website and pay my out-of-state infraction or stop by the local courthouse. Nope, it wasn’t until I got a nastygram from the Kentucky DMV letting me know that my license had been suspended that I realized I had let it go for too long this time.

No problem, I thought. I’ll pay my fines online and go get my license reinstated.

Yeah, that’s not how it works.

The first step in my journey was finding my copies of the citations, which, surprisingly, wasn’t as hard as I expected it to be. They were both in the glovebox of my Focus RS, although they were both kinda old and wrinkly. No matter, the print was still (mostly) legible on the thermal paper. Great — problem number one was solved.

Next, I decided to pay my Georgia ticket on the Gwinnett County website, which was far more efficient than any government website has the right to be. The original ticket was $145 — $20 for the ticket, and $125 for court costs. Since I didn’t go to court, I’m not sure why I have to pay those, but the Man says I do. Fine.

Oops. Turns out that there’s been a small, um, warrant out for my arrest. The “bench warrant fee” was $100, so my ticket was now $258 including all the fees. Good job, Bark. Regardless, I paid the fine and printed out my receipt, which I figured would be sufficient proof for the Kentucky DMV.

Next up, the Fayette County website to pay my Kentucky ticket. Whomp whomp. Turns out that I can’t pay a past due fine online — I actually have to go to the courthouse, which begs the question: how am I supposed to drive to the courthouse, which is roughly 30 miles from my house, with a suspended license? I mean, yes, I’ve obviously been driving for a little while with a suspended license, but now I know I’m doing it. Plus, maybe they have cops just sitting around outside the traffic court clerk’s office, waiting to pull over people for doing one MPH over the limit, and then tossing them in jail for driving under suspension?

So now I’m freaking out a little bit, but I decide to risk it and drive my neon blue jellybean as lawfully and inconspicuously as I can down to the courthouse. Thankfully, there are no vicious policemen in Tauruses waiting to arrest me as I arrive. I walk up to the traffic clerk counter, with my credit card in hand, cringing in anticipation of what my original $163 ticket (again, $20 for the ticket, $143 in court costs) has ballooned into. The lady behind the counter, who is personifying every stereotype of a government worker, takes my ticket from my hand, looks at me, and says, “I’m gonna have to go get this one.”

She gets up from the counter, and walks away without another word. Fifteen minutes later she comes back with an actual folder with my original ticket in it. Like, the paper copy. I don’t understand — is this not digitized in some way? Apparently not in Fayette County, Kentucky. However, I’m rewarded for my wait by the news that there are no additional fines or fees! All I owe is the $163 ticket. Fantastic.

Now, she says, since I live in Clark County, and not Fayette County, I have to go back to the DMV in Clark County to renew my license. Not a huge deal, since I live about 2 miles from the office. So, I take all of my paperwork, go back to my car, and realize that despite paying both of my tickets, my license is still suspended, and now there are about 50 police cars circling the courthouse. Just be cool, Bark. Just be cool.

Thirty minutes later, I’m at the Clark County Clerk’s office, ready to pay my reinstatement fee and pose for a new photo that makes me look slightly less like a member of The Mossad than my last one did. But as the Jungle Brothers once said, hold up, wait a minute — the sign on the counter lets me know that only checks are accepted for payment in Clark County. I am unable to remember not only where my checkbook might be, but the last time I even wrote a check.

Back home I go. Luckily, it only takes about 20 minutes of digging through various junk drawers in the house to find a little pad of checks. Still painfully aware of my suspended license, I roll past three, count em, three unmarked police cars on my way back to the office.

Finally, I have my license. Nah, JK. Turns out that neither Georgia nor Fayette County are reporting that I’ve paid my ticket, so I have to call the state’s DMV in Frankfort, KY, and provide them with proof. Once more, I am leaving a government office with no DL.

When I get home, I call Frankfort and get transferred three times — and then I wait on hold for 30 minutes. Finally, a charming young lady named Alexis lets me know that the receipts that I have in my hand are no good. I have to wait for the system to be updated, which could take “several days.” Also, she says, I have to call Georgia and ask them to fax proof of my payment, since the Kentucky system won’t show that.

Fine. I call the Gwinnett County courthouse, but that number has been disconnected. I now have to call a nationwide, 1-800 ticket payment number. Of course, since I’ve already paid my ticket, they aren’t able to help me, but they do have a number to the Gwinnett County Recorder’s office. Okay. So I call that number, get transferred twice, and am finally told that, no, they can’t help me, I have to speak to somebody in the prosecutor’s office. So I call that number, and after being transferred three times, I am only able to leave a recording on a supervisor’s voicemail. She promises to return my call if I leave my citation number, my name, my social security number, and my date of birth. That all seems completely fine to leave on a voicemail — what could go wrong?

So here I sit, still with no license, waiting on the mercy of a government official who lives about 600 miles away, hoping she’ll call me back. This, despite having receipts for both payments I’ve made in my hand, neither of which seem to matter very much to the fine folks in the capital of the Bluegrass.

Moral of the story: Pay your damn tickets. Better yet, don’t get them in the first place. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to make a few dozen phone calls.

[Image: Mark “Bark M.” Baruth/TTAC]

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
Mark "Bark M." Baruth

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  • THX1136 THX1136 on Jan 24, 2018

    Since this is somewhat related, I was wondering if any of the B&B can explain the logic behind this observed behaviour. A car catches up with me on the open road since they are going over whatever's posted - in this case 55. No worries. BUT, during my commute I pass through a small town with 35 posted. This same vehicle that caught up to me going over posted now drives - my guess - 5 under in town. After we're out of town about a mile the following motorist resumes their over posted open road speed. Again, no worries. My question is why drop to 5 under in town? I don't get it. In the 20 years of doing this commute I have seen a town cop car once, so I discounted previous experience with that town's law enforcement. Any ideas?

    • 05lgt 05lgt on Feb 03, 2018

      late idea, maybe they had an accident or near miss in that town? sometimes the threat of a ticket isn't why you slow down.

  • WildcatMatt WildcatMatt on Feb 08, 2018

    Rolling up a few thoughts in one place: Regarding insurance, the longest you can be surcharged for an incident ("insurance points") is 3 years, and at most 5 years for rating/tiering purposes. Because these things are only applied at renewal, unless your violation date is just before the renewal generates you won't see it until the following renewal -- assuming your insurance company checks your MVR every renewal. Since it costs the insurance company money each time they pull your MVR, I kept a clean record long enough that my insurer actually stopped checking my record. But if your insurance does pick it up, mark your calendar and shop around 37 months after the violation date (this works with at-fault accidents, too). Regarding attorneys and fighting the ticket, this is good general advice but the best thing to do is a) actually read the ticket, and b) google the jurisdiction and see what comes back. My wife got a ticket in upstate NY in one of those little towns just off I-88 where it's all about revenue generation. Based on what we found, she wrote a plea letter with an SASE and got a reduction to a non-moving violation (invisible to insurance) which was $80 plus $40 court costs. Given the multigenerational photocopied plea acceptance form letter we got back it's clear that anyone who can string together complete sentences and isn't a repeat offender receives this automagically. Maybe doing the attorney thing would have been slightly cheaper but making it effectively disappear for $120 and half an hour to write a letter was worth it to us. In general though I feel that the further we go toward a connected, information-driven economy the worse the fee situation will become, for three reasons: 1) It used to be that things like late fees were calculated based on the cost of labor, printing, and postage for the follow-up activity, perhaps rounded up to the nearest $1 or $5. But now that most consumers have accepted up-front transaction fees (thanks, Ticketmaster), late fees have to be increased commensurately to maintain at least the illusion of the slap on the wrist, despite the fact that it's all done by computer and if you're paperless the cost to the company for you being late is fractions of a cent. 2) Businesses and governments have discovered that fees can be a healthy profit center in and of themselves, especially because in many cases they make the cost of something initially appear lower. And when a fee is punitive in nature, it's far easier to rationalize a justification for the cost. 3) It's easy and inexpensive enough for businesses to report late payments to the credit bureaus now that there's also a multiplication effect. It used to be (generally speaking) that only the banks and big utilities reported you and that's if you went all the way to collections. Now being 60 days late with, say, a large medical bill will mean paying more for your car loan and car insurance too.

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