LAS CRUCES (AP) - Regulators in New Mexico will inquire about plans by Las Cruces to collect $2 million in delinquent red-light camera fines by shutting off the utilities of motorists who have racked up the penalties.
The city began sending letters to offenders a week ago telling them to either pay up, make payment arrangements or risk having their utilities disconnected, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.
Patrick Lyons, chairman of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, said the city is going too far and he plans to inquire about the policy at a meeting Tuesday in Santa Fe.
"It's a very liberal act of the City Council to do something like that to low-income people," Lyons said.
He said there are federal guidelines that prevent the city from going after low-income residents.
But the Public Regulation Commission's ability to do anything about a city ordinance that lets the city decline to provide utility service to anyone who may be in debt to the city for any reason might be nil.
City Manager Robert Garza said an ordinance gives the city the power to cut off utilities for people who owe the city money, and that it was his decision to enforce the city's law.
"This provision has been used in several different scenarios already," Garza said. "You don't extend credit to someone who owes you."
Garza said the enforcement effort is aimed at a small group of egregious violators.
"Some of them have over $2,000 in fines," he said. "The quick math shows that's more than 20 red-light fines, and that shows a blatant, unwillingness to pay."
Councilors Nathan Small and Greg Smith had mixed feelings about the decision.
"We clearly have to have a way for consequences for folks, (but) I don't agree with the policy," Small said. "I agree with finding a way to focus on these most egregious folks, but I can't see without deliberation and discussion going to a system where people lose water."
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