Nearly 127,360 Geaux Pass holders — and one very conscientious and determined cash customer — received about $3.1 million in refunds through a program aimed at returning unspent account balances and tolls paid to cross the Crescent City Connection during a two-month period of uncertainty over the legality of tolls on the bridge.
The Refund the Tolls program, run by state Treasurer John Kennedy’s office, used in-person events at malls and banners on a CCC building to alert people to the program. The effort, which eventually included looking up the addresses of toll tag holders and mailing them the checks they were owed, formally wrapped up on June 30, but its results were just released.
“I’m very pleased with the program,” Kennedy said, even though more than $4 million of the $7.2 million in CCC toll accounts remains unclaimed.
But the success of the effort could cut into funding expected by the company that operates the ferries and the organization charged with overseeing the decorative lighting on the bridge itself. Both groups were expecting a boost in funding from money that remained unclaimed at the end of the program, but they could end up getting much less than they anticipated.
The refund program was established by a 2013 law sponsored by Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-Algiers, that sought to return money to motorists after the expiration of the CCC tolls. Most of the money in the program came from unused balances and deposits on Geaux Pass accounts.
Additional funds came from tolls collected, both in cash and through Geaux Pass, during a two-month window between two elections that decided the tolls’ fate.
The tolls initially were extended in a 2012 referendum. But challenges to that vote resulted in the election’s being tossed out; a second referendum then failed. The refund program allowed motorists to collect money they had paid between the beginning of 2013 and the halting of the tolls in early March after the first election was nullified.
Almost all of those refunds went to Geaux Pass holders, but one motorist who paid in cash also reclaimed some money. That driver, who was not identified by the Treasurer’s Office, was able to present receipts for $34 in tolls, which were reimbursed, according to the office.
Individual refunds were relatively small, given that the program was dealing with toll tags, but that doesn’t mean the applicants weren’t welcomed, Kennedy said.
“For many of the people that got 10, 15, 20 or 40 dollars, they needed the money. And it was theirs anyway,” he said.
In addition to the refunds cashed by motorists, another $2 million remains in limbo. That is the amount of the checks that the Treasurer’s Office sent out to toll tag holders based on the information on their accounts but that were never cashed or were returned to the office due to incorrect addresses.
What happens to that money remains unclear. Kennedy said he believes it should be handled like other unclaimed property in the state and set aside so that its owners can eventually recover it.
“I want to give people the benefit of the doubt if they haven’t cashed the check,” he said.
But that could have ramifications for both the Canal Street-Algiers Point ferry and the lighting on the Crescent City Connection.
The law establishing the refund program specified that 30 percent of the money that remained unclaimed at the end would go toward keeping the ferries in the New Orleans area running. The other 70 percent would go to the Regional Planning Commission for the bridge lighting.
Veolia, the company that runs the Regional Transit Authority transit lines and the ferries, had been expecting about $1.2 million from the program. That money was set to go toward bolstering the ferry’s weekday hours, which were reduced before the company took it over, for the next two years.
But that budget was based on the expectation the two agencies would be splitting roughly $4 million in unclaimed money, almost twice as much as they will if the uncashed checks go to unclaimed property.
Veolia officials declined to comment on the situation because the final numbers are not yet known.
Kennedy said his office is in discussions with the Department of Transportation and Development over how to handle the money.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.