Opinion 95 - 6


This opinion represents the views of the Office of the State Comptroller at the time it was rendered. The opinion may no longer represent those views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinion.

FINES AND PENALTIES -- Disposition (fines and penalties imposed by town justice with respect to violations of traffic control signals and speed limits in suburban town) -- Distribution by State Comptroller (fines and penalties for speeding violations in suburban town); (fines and penalties for violations of traffic control signals) -- Remission to State Comptroller (fines and penalties imposed and collected by a town justice with respect to violations of a suburban town's speed limits and traffic control signals) -- Vehicle and Traffic Violations (disposition of fines and penalties with respect to violations of a suburban town's speed limits and traffic control signals)

VEHICLE AND TRAFFIC LAW, §§1660(a)(5), 1662-a, 1803; STATE FINANCE LAW, §99-a: A suburban town is entitled to all fines and penalties imposed and collected by the town justice with respect to violations of traffic control signals. A suburban town also is entitled to all fines and penalties imposed and collected by the town justice with respect to violations of speed limits imposed pursuant to Vehicle and Traffic Law, §1662-a, up to the annual cap of five dollars per inhabitant. Fines and penalties collected by a town justice with respect to violations of traffic control signals and speed limits must initially be paid to the State Comptroller who then distributes the appropriate amount to the municipality.

You have inquired as to the proper disposition of fines imposed and collected by a town justice in a suburban town in connection with violations of its speed limits and "traffic controls". Specifically, you ask what portion of those fines belong to the town.

Initially, we note that you indicate that the speed limits imposed by the town were implemented by local law pursuant to the authority in Vehicle and Traffic Law, §1662-a. That section authorizes suburban towns and other towns having a population in excess of 50,000 to establish maximum speed limits on certain highways within the town (but see Vehicle and Traffic Law, §1180-a, setting forth maximum speed limits). Further, for purposes of this opinion, we assume that your reference to "traffic controls" indicates that the town has installed traffic-control signals to regulate traffic as authorized by Vehicle and Traffic Law, §1660(a)(5) (see Vehicle and Traffic Law, §154 defining traffic control signals; see also, Town Law, §64[16]).

Fines and penalties collected by justice courts generally must be paid over to the State Comptroller who then distributes them to the State and its municipalities in the manner prescribed by statute (State Finance Law, §99-a; Uniform Justice Court Act, §2020; Vehicle and Traffic Law, §§1803[5],[8]). Vehicle and Traffic Law, §1803 governs the disposition of fines and penalties collected and remitted to the State Comptroller in connection with convictions pursuant to the Vehicle and Traffic Law or any act relating to the use of the highways. Section 1803(1)(a) provides that:

... for a violation which occurs in a city, town or suburban town, any fine or penalty shall be paid to the city, town or suburban town in which the violation occurs, when such violation is of ... any of the provisions of title seven of this chapter [§§1100 et seq.], but including violations of section eleven hundred eighty [maximum speed limits] only ... when involving maximum speed limits established pursuant to section ... sixteen hundred sixty-two-a ... (emphasis added)

Thus, this provision applies to fines collected by the town both for violations of maximum speed limits implemented pursuant to section 1662-a, and for violations of section 1110 requiring obedience to traffic control devices, including signals (see Vehicle and Traffic Law, §§153 and 154).

With respect to moneys collected in connection with violations of traffic control signals, section 1803 contains no limitations on the amounts paid and, therefore, the town would be entitled to receive all of the fines collected therefor. However, with respect to fines and penalties collected in connection with speeding violations, the provisions of section 1803(1)(a) must be read in conjunction with section 1803(5), which caps the amount of these moneys returned to suburban towns. Section 1803(5) states:

All fines, penalties and forfeitures for violations of section eleven hundred eighty of this chapter, which relate to maximum speed limits established ... by a suburban town pursuant to section sixteen hundred sixty-two-a of this chapter, and all bail forfeited by the non-appearance of defendants charged with such violations shall be paid over to the state comptroller by the court, justice or other officer collecting the same within the first ten days of the month following the collection. Whenever such fines, penalties and forfeitures, including bail forfeited, in any year commencing July first shall aggregate in excess of five dollars for each inhabitant of the ... suburban town, ... according to the last preceding federal census, such excess shall be the property of the state and shall be paid into the general fund of the state treasury (emphasis added).(1)

Accordingly, based on the foregoing, fines and penalties imposed and collected by a town justice in a suburban town with respect to violations of traffic control signals, after payment to the State Comptroller, belong entirely to the town. Fines and penalties imposed and collected by a town justice in a suburban town with respect to violations of speed limits imposed pursuant to Vehicle and Traffic Law, §1662-a, after payment to the State Comptroller, belong to the town, up to the annual cap of five dollars per inhabitant. The amount in excess of the cap is property of the State.

March 16, 1995
Gerald S. Jacobs, Esq., Town Attorney
Town of Eastchester

1. Note that towns other than suburban towns are not subject to the limitation of five dollars per inhabitant (see 1981 Opns St Comp, No. 81-227, p 245).