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Parking tickets boost city revenue

August 06, 1999|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

That little white ticket under your windshield wiper might seem like an annoyance, but to the City of Hagerstown, it a way to raise the revenue needed to maintain parking facilities.

Tickets for parking violations in the city brought in $164,099 during the 1999 fiscal year that ended June 30, according to city Finance Director Al Martin.

That was $14,383 more than parking ticket revenues for the 1998 fiscal year, and almost double the $85,774 paid by parking violators in fiscal 1995.

Interim Chief Robert Hart of Hagerstown City Police attributed the jump in ticket revenues to the hiring of parking enforcement personnel, an increase in fine amounts and the elimination of a grace period, during which violators could pay reduced amounts.

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The money generated by the fines funds city parking operations including the parking deck, municipal lots and meters, said Martin.

Revenue from the city's 850 meters and its rented monthly parking spaces do not bring in enough money to cover expenses, he said.

The parking fund is $70,000 in the red and Martin said City Council may need to consider raising the meter rates and parking space rental fees.

Money also will be needed to expand some of the municipal lots to accommodate a need for more parking spaces, he said.

In 1994, the fine for being parked at an expired meter was $3. If the fine was paid within 24 hours, the violator paid only $1.

The price of a parking ticket rose in 1996, with an expired meter violation costing $5. If paid during the grace period, the fine was $3.

Last fiscal year, Hagerstown City Council agreed to eliminate discounts for those who paid their parking tickets promptly.

The city needed the extra money and "the fine was too low to serve as a deterrent," said Martin.

In 1998, Hagerstown parking enforcement personnel and city police wrote 17,279 tickets for parking violations, said Hagerstown City Police Sgt. Jack Hall, who compiles such records.

Violations included parking at expired meters, in handicapped spaces, too close to fire hydrants or fire stations, or in designated spaces or red-lined areas, as well as parking in areas designated for street cleaning.

"When a ticket is placed on a windshield many times people will come out and say 'I was only gone a minute,' but it's not about time it's about parking," Hall said.

Don't tell that to Michael Cunningham who regularly stops downtown for his refrigeration business.

He has received three tickets this year for being parked at expired meters.

"Now I'm more careful," he said.

Cunningham said he hates getting tickets but has accepted it as the cost of doing business in the downtown.

"I don't shop in the downtown mainly because of the parking," Judy Melby, of Hagerstown, said.

Melby said it's difficult to find a parking spot and said she found parking in the city deck to be a hassle.

Judy Ashby had a different experience when she parked in a downtown municipal lot on Tuesday to run errands.

"It wasn't hard to find a spot and the meter had a five-hour limit. I had plenty of time," she said.

Most the parking tickets written are for expired meters, said Martin.

An average of 1,500 warnings are written each year. The number of tickets written for 1999 was unavailable, said Hall.

In February 1997, the city hired parking enforcement personnel to monitor meters weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Streets near Washington County Hospital are the exception, with meters checked from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week.

The fines are necessary maintain control over the city's streets, said Hall.

"The city provides parking - people have to follow the rules or pay the penalty. We can't have everyone parking wherever they want," said Hall.

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