Whom the toll fells

Hey, county employees: Bridge tolls are real.

Hey, county employees: Bridge tolls are real.

The Bay Area is proving a tricky destination for some Sacramento County employees.

Between 2006 and 2010, employees with the divisions of Child Protective Services, mental health, sheriff’s department and animal control incurred multiple Bay Area bridge-toll violations for improperly using FasTrak lanes.

What’s worse, the respective departments didn’t pay their fines right away, leading to a $3,329 tab, for which payment had to authorized by the board of supervisors last week.

In the wider scheme of things, the amount represents a drop in the proverbial bucket for a county with a $3.6 billion budget. But it is somewhat humanizing to know county officials can get just as flustered on Northern California bridges and be just as irresponsible paying their tickets as the everyday citizen.

“For the most part, county staff thought that county vehicles were exempt” from Bay Area bridge tolls, said county spokeswoman Laura McCasland. “And they’re not.”

The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees CPS and mental health, owes the largest chunk of the outstanding bill at $3,033. From 2006 to 2008, CPS employees racked up 32 FasTrak violations, while mental-health employees were responsible for nine.

A mental-health worker also illegally parked a county vehicle in front of a fire hydrant at the Sacramento County Mental Health Treatment Center in the city of Sacramento in January 2007, resulting in an outstanding fine of $208 that’s just now getting paid.

The Sheriff’s Department owes $222 for two FasTrak violations that took place in March 2007, and November 2008. During the latter occasion, sheriff’s deputies drove a suspicious subject they located on Brannon Island Road to his home over the Antioch Bridge, a staff report from county executive Brad Hudson explained.

The Antioch Bridge was the site of another violation in June 2010, when an animal-control officer responding to a California Highway Patrol call for assistance corralled a loose animal in the roadway and used the FasTrak lane to cross the bridge and turn around.

The Bay Area Toll Authority, which was in the midst of some internal systems changes, didn’t report the infractions right away, McCasland said.

The county also had to then figure out who was driving the vehicles when the violations occurred, and determine the proper protocol for paying the fines. The money for the outstanding fines is coming from each department’s budget and not the county’s general fund.

Behind the scenes, several county vehicles were outfitted with FasTrak responders, while staff was reminded that they’re not magically exempt from the perpetually increasing toll fees the rest of us have to pay.