Higher penalty for repeat parking offenders?

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 17, 2011

By Emily Ford
In a one-block stretch of North Main Street, Michael Neely wrote nine parking tickets in about 10 minutes Wednesday morning.
In fact, he placed a pink $5 ticket under the windshield wiper of almost every car in the 300 block.
The yellow chalk stripe on the tire was the telltale sign that Neely had cruised this section two hours earlier on his Segway.
Neely, the Salisbury Police parking control specialist, said most of the cars he ticketed probably belonged to people who were in court.
None, he said, were owned by the 25 people whom police and Downtown Salisbury Inc. say work downtown but park in two-hour spots intended for customers. Taking up those spaces hour after hour, day after day, costs merchants an estimated $1.6 million in lost revenues each year.
Neely knows those people, and he knows their cars.
“I even know their tags and home addresses by heart,” he said.
Because the city doesn’t have a computer system for parking tickets, Neely must look up the address for everyone who doesn’t pay their ticket within 72 hours and send them a letter.
Regardless of how long a motorist waits to pay a parking ticket in Salisbury, it costs $5.
No matter how many tickets accrue in a week, month or even a year, each ticket still costs $5.
Downtown Salisbury wants the city to put some teeth into its parking ordinance with late fees and a repeat offender violation. Executive Director Randy Hemann and the police department also want an automated tracking and billing system.
Neely writes about 300 tickets a month.
“It’s a nightmare to do all this manually,” Hemann told City Council Tuesday. “It keeps him off the street. He spends a lot of time in the office when he should be on the street.”
Hemann asked Council to institute a $20 late fee after 30 days and a repeat offender fine after someone receives four tickets in a month. The fourth ticket would jump from $5 to $50.
“This is an effort to get us basically to a point where we’re in line with what people do around us,” Hemann said.
Fines in other cities include:
• Concord: $10 ticket, $15 after 15 days, $20 after 30 days.
• Statesville: $5 ticket, $40 after two weeks, $80 after 28 days.
• Greensboro: $5 ticket, $25 after 40 days.
• Albemarle: $5 ticket, $100 civil penalty after 30 days.
The fines he’s suggesting are not an effort to raise revenue in a down economy, Hemann said. The money from parking tickets goes to the public school coffers, as required by state law, he said.
Repeat parking violators make a conscious decision to use spaces intended for customers, Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell said. It’s more cost effective for them to get $5 tickets than to lease a parking space somewhere, she said.
William “Pete” Kennedy asked if someone parked in a two-hour spot all day will receive more than one $5 ticket. “A lot of times they just get one ticket,” Hemann said. “It’s a pretty good deal.”
Hemann said people criticize downtown for a lack of parking, but study after study shows adequate all-day spaces available. A parking map is available at www.downtownsalisburync.com/parking.
Downtown has added 261 parking spaces since 2001, Hemann said. He listed these lots and spaces as examples:
• County lot at Kerr and Main Streets, 65
• Gateway lot, 52
• Soldiers Memorial lot on Liberty Street, 42
• Trexler lot, 45
• Lot at Fisher and Lee streets, 17
• On street parking, 40
Neely said he often suggests repeat offenders try parking in these lots, which are usually just one or two blocks from their workplace.
“I don’t hassle them,” he said. “I make recommendations.”
To modernize the city’s parking ticket system, Hemann and the police department initially requested $15,000 for software and four handheld devices. But Hemann said Tuesday the city only needs one or two handheld devices, which would cut the cost significantly.
Neely said he’s still keeping track of unpaid tickets as far back as 1997.
And they still cost $5.
Council set a public hearing for 4 p.m. April 5 at City Hall to receive public comment on downtown parking issues.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.