The town of Washington owes state government $222,130 from speeding tickets issued by the municipality’s police officers on Interstate 49.
“I can’t make Washington pay it. But what I believe is he has to cut a check,” Daryl G. Purpera, the Louisiana legislative auditor, said Friday.
Washington Mayor Joseph A. Pitre told the Legislative Audit Advisory Council he did not believe the town owes the money.
State law requires fines collected by local law enforcement from motorists exceeding the speed limit by less than 10 miles per hour on an interstate highway to be turned over to the state Treasury. The law applies only to local governments without a home rule charter.
Pitre asked that the proceeding be suspended until he could hire a lawyer.
Pitre also asked the advisory council to forbid one of its members, state Rep. Ledricka Thierry, D-Opelousas, from considering the matter. Pitre said after the hearing that he planned to challenge Thierry in the October race for state representative. He questioned whether Thierry would take political benefit from the issue.
Thierry said no reason had been raised that would give cause to recuse herself from participating in hearing the report delivered the panel by the state auditor.
State Sen. Ed Murray, the advisory council’s co-chairman, told Pitre the town of Washington was free to file a lawsuit challenging the state law. If Pitre doesn’t like the statute in question, he should try to overturn it in court or have legislators pass a new law, Murray said.
In the meantime, Murray said the audit found Washington police officers wrote tickets on an interstate highway and the fines were not properly turned over to state government.
Pitre said the money had been given to various agencies as part of a program called LACE or Local Agency Compensated Enforcement. The program is not found in state law but has grown up to help forge cooperation between various local government entities, according to an Attorney General’s opinion. The money is used to fund extra duty for off-duty police officers.
State auditors could find no agreements between the town of Washington and St. Landry Parish agencies, said Legislative Auditor Purpera. The required contracts would dictate how the fine money would be dispersed among the various agencies.
Even if parish officials had told town fathers where to send the money, in the absence of “cooperative endeavor agreement” between the government agencies, the money still should have gone to the state Treasury, Murray said. “What they say doesn’t trump a state law,” he added.
Purpera said his office was in contact with State Treasurer John N. Kennedy’s office and with state lawyers at the Office of the Attorney General about the situation. It would be up to those agencies to collect the funds. Those two agencies could move to stop the state from sending money to the town, he said.