Those unpaid camera citations aren’t going away, no matter how old they are.
At least that’s what City Hall says.
Both the city Legal Department and a private company helping collect the debt say there’s no statute of limitations on citations issued through Albuquerque’s old red-light camera program.
That assessment is at odds with the evaluation of Alan Malott, a state District Court judge who said New Mexico law generally bars legal action to collect a claim if four years have passed. Read the column from Monday’s Business Outlook.
Malott himself is responding to a claim that he owes on a 2006 citation, and he wrote a column about it in the Journal’s Business Outlook published Monday.
Assistant City Attorney Greg Wheeler isn’t convinced. The state Constitution, he said, requires the city to pursue collection of unpaid citations.
“This is not a debt that’s controlled by the statute of limitations because it’s something the city is required to do by the New Mexico Constitution,” Wheeler said Tuesday in an interview.
He said it’s plausible a court would accept Malott’s argument but that “it’s our opinion that a court would conclude there is no statute of limitations.”
In any case, it’s clear that irritation over the collection efforts is reaching City Hall.
City Councilor Brad Winter said he’s heard complaints about Creditwatch Services, the company hired by Redflex Traffic Systems to collect on unpaid citations. Redflex was the company that operated Albuquerque’s red-light cameras on behalf of the city government.
“What I’m hearing is, Creditwatch is rude. They’re obnoxious,” Winter said during Monday’s council meeting. “… It’s not right for constituents to be badgered if they have a legitimate complaint and have no place to go to with that complaint.”
Creditwatch said it has reported 81,000 people to credit bureaus for unpaid citations. Such delinquency reports often lower a person’s credit rating, which leads to higher interest rates or determining whether a person qualifies for a loan or mortgage.
City Attorney David Tourek said it’s his understanding that Redflex has an ombudsman with authority to consider such complaints.
Wheeler said a citation might be dismissed, for example, if the person can provide documentation showing he or she sold the car before it was ticketed and the new owner hadn’t registered it with the state.
James Fuller of Creditwatch Services said the company’s agents are polite, but they sometimes face foul or heated language from angry people with outstanding citations.
“We do expect our agents to be polite and professional,” he said. “That having been said, please try to appreciate that folks who call us oftentimes present a very contentious” situation.
Albuquerque’s traffic cameras are no longer in operation.
About 53 percent of city voters cast ballots against the cameras in the 2011 city election. The results were advisory, but the council later agreed to shut the cameras off.
Debate over the cameras has continued since then. Redflex said it was still owed its share of outstanding fines, even after the cameras went away.
About a year ago, the city resolved the possibility of litigation by agreeing to hire Redflex to pursue collections. Redflex, in turn, started working with Creditwatch.
The company began making calls to people in February after Redflex gave it all the license plate numbers associated with unpaid citations. The 81,000 turned over to the credit bureaus covers about $21 million in debt for about 103,000 citations.
People who didn’t pay a red-light camera citation can call the company at 877-444-3343.