Parking penalty revenues
By Angela M. Jones
Cherokee Tribune Staff Writer
When it comes to parking tickets and their revenue, downtown Canton is a gold mine for the police department.
The number of parking tickets written in the downtown area has more than tripled in the last year, with 2,212 tickets written from Jan. 1 through July 31. During the same time last year, 724 tickets were given out, according to downtown parking Officer Tom Priest.
"I have no idea why there are so many more tickets being given out this year," he said. "I would imagine it's because there are more people coming to the city, but that's just my guess."
Whatever the cause, all those tickets are adding up to major money for the Canton Police Department.
The total value of the tickets written between Jan. 1 and July 31 totals $20,035, and the department has collected $17,545 in fines. Last year, the total value of the parking tickets issued during the same time was $5,555, of which the department collected $4,375.
Revenue brought in from parking fines is deposited into the city government's general fund, and helps to cover the department's daily operating expenses, said Canton Budget Officer Cole Blackwell.
"While the general fund is used to pay most of the city's daily operating expenses, 100 percent of the revenue brought in by the police department goes back into the department," he said. "The money from parking tickets and other fines goes to pay things like salaries, insurance, repair and maintenance on both the police cars and the building and so on."
Blackwell estimated the revenue generated by the police department through tickets and other fines on average covers about 30 percent of its total operating expenditures. The rest of the budget is funded by property taxes and other city revenues.
About $24,000 of the revenues from parking tickets will go toward purchasing a new computer system to help manage downtown parking later this year, said Assistant Police Chief Jeff Lance. The new system will use Microsoft Word, and will replace the older DOS-based system currently in use.
Priest, who has been in charge of downtown parking for the last 18 months, said the tickets appear to be evenly distributed in the area where all of the two-hour and the 20-minute parking spaces were numbered earlier this year.
Priest said he writes between five to 30 tickets a day for various parking violations. Most of the tickets he writes are for cars that stay longer than the allotted time.
"I encourage people to remember their parking space number, so that, if they should move their vehicle, they won't park in the same spot again within a two-hour period," he said.
Lance attributes the increase in tickets to a rise in the number of people visiting the courthouse and other county administrative buildings, and the fact the department now has a full-time officer patrolling the downtown area every day.
"For the past four or five years, the job of monitoring downtown parking has been divided up between several officers," he said. "Now, we have a full-time person out there every day, and he's able to spot and cite more violations than the previous officers, who were out in different shifts."
Residents who receive more than three parking tickets in a 30-day period are placed on the city's habitual violators list, and the cost of their tickets increases to $25 for each for the next three violations. After three $25 tickets, each additional citation will cost $50.
Priest said in addition to putting a ticket on the violator's car, he sends the person a courtesy letter reminding him of the violation and requesting payment. If the ticket is not paid within a reasonable time, usually about two weeks, or the vehicle will be booted.
"I'm not required to give them any additional time. Once they've been served the letter, I am free to boot their vehicle when I find it," he said. "But, I try to give them a chance to pay what they owe before I take the next step. Most people want to do the right thing and pay their tickets, and I try to give them that opportunity."
Once a vehicle is booted, the owner must pay the $75 boot fee, plus the original ticket fine, before the car will be operational again. From Jan. 1 to July 31, 20 vehicles in the downtown area were booted, another increase from last year, when only 11 vehicles got the boot.
Some fines are never paid and the revenue is lost, unless the violator is ticketed again, Lance said. From Jan. 1 through July 31, $2,495 in ticket money was not collected, an increase of more than $1,300 from the same time last year, when $1,180 was lost.
"One of the biggest problems we're having with prosecuting parking tickets is the inability to positively identify the vehicle's driver," Lance said. "Unless we see the person park or return to the car, there's no way to say for sure who parked the car."
Don't read this article. I'm sure the reporter is in error. I mean there is no way that the department is funded by parking tickets. I know for sure that the department is only looking out for the safety of the residents