Greensboro owed more than $1 million for code violations

by Ben Holder

Greensboro City Council

Greensboro City Councilman Tony Wilkins recently made an inquiry about fines city staff is issuing for illegal yard signs. Wilkins’ Jan. 5 email stated, “Around Feb/March of 2014, the city collected hundreds of illegal signs along High Point Road and other areas. I was informed that we levied fines against the people who installed these signs. One fine was in excess of $9,000. Please update me as to who was fined and when these fines were paid.”The city manager’s office responded to Wilkins with some good news and some bad news. The good news? Inspectors are out locating illegal signs and citations are being issued. More than $11,000 in fines for illegal signs had been issued. The bad news is the city has only collected a little over $1,000. That answer drove Wilkins’ to ask more questions about unpaid fines. Late last week, Wilkins and the rest of the Greensboro City Council received information from the city manager’s office regarding the total amount the city is owed for unpaid fines. The answer? How about more than $4 million. Of that, $2.9 million is owed for unpaid parking tickets. More than $600,000 is owed for housing code violations and another $600,000 plus is owed for fire code violations.Out of all the violations reported by the city, parking violators had the most fines as well as the highest collection rate. Greensboro’s Parking Enforcement Officers have issued 453,090 parking tickets in the last 11 years that totaled $11,315,080.00 in fines. To date, $8,401,077 has been paid with a remaining balance of $2,914,003 due.The collection process for parking tickets, according to the city, goes like this. If a citation is not paid within 46 days, the city submits it to a collection agency. Violators that have an identifiable social security number are “…referred to the NC Debt Set-Off program via an electronically filed claim at least 105 days after issue date for any unpaid balance of $50 or more.” The NC Debt Set-Off program helps garnish wages that come from state income tax refunds and also lottery winnings.If the NC Debt Set-Off program is unable to identify state income tax refunds and or lottery winnings, the fine sits in the state system until paid. The email from the manager’s office also revealed other alternatives for enforcing unpaid parking tickets. “Debtors found in violation with 3 or more unpaid parking tickets can be towed or booted; implemented in late 2009. Debtors with $1,000 or more are reviewed for possible filing in small claims court to seek judgment.” The email to the council also outlined the steps the city takes to collect fines other than unpaid parking tickets, such as fire code violations and nuisances.Fines for fire code and nuisance ordinance violations have been the least collected, according to the information council received from the manager. A little over $1 million in fines was issued for violations of the fire code. The city has only managed to collect $421,366 of that. Local Ordinance Enforcement Officers have issued $912,793.00 in fines. The city has only received $259,117 of that. The city manager’s office reported that the city’s collection method is to go after the highest amounts first. Phone calls are made and multiple letters are mailed by certified and regular mail. The city gives the debtor 30 days to pay or the attempted phone calls and letter mailing continue.The most effective collection tool the city manager’s office wrote about was the fact that the city can deny services if the, “”¦billing type is for a service such as parking, landfill, police outside employment & others.” After a fine becomes delinquent for 120 days, the collections supervisor will review the case and decide if further action is appropriate. If the city has a valid address for the debtor, “a small claims action can be initiated or if account is over $10,000 or out of Guilford County or out of State, we can submit file (with collections efforts noted) to Legal for assistance.” If no “valid” address is available the fine could remain delinquent forever.Staff will update council members at the January 27 work session. The city manager’s office reported to the council that the presentation for the work session will cover, “…. our current debt collection strategies and ideas for enhancing collections.”