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PARKING IN THE RED

The City of Greensboro owed $2.5 million in uncollected parking violations

 whitney@yesweekly.com | @YesWeekWhitney

While finalizing the City’s upcoming fiscal year budget this June, City Manger Jim Westmoreland discussed outside agency costs with City Council. While things like the initiatives around East Market Street, funds for the National Folk Festival, and funding for non-profits and Greensboro Partnership were each under $200,000, one untapped source of revenue was shocking.

The City of Greensboro is currently owed $2.5 million in uncollected parking fees. The statistic prompted some members to ask why the city wasn’t doing more to collect these fees, and what could realistically be done.

For other members, this loss of revenue is old news.

“I bring this up every year,” said council member Zack Matheny. “And nothing ever happens.”

Public records indicate the individuals with the 10 highest outstanding balances ranging from $3,434.93 for Tralla Wallace Brown to $1,610 for Denise Daviage Seales-McLeod.

City parking fines can be written for as low as $15 for a basic expired meter fee to $250 for illegally parking in spot reserved for the handicapped. If a citation is not paid within 45 days, a $25 penalty is added to the fine. An additional $10 is added if a citation is not paid within 90 days.

The City of Greensboro notifies owners of cars associated with parking tickets that have not been paid in 20 days. This is the first and only mailing attempt made by the city in an effort to notify the owner.

After 90 days, the debt is turned over to a collection agency if a Social Security Number can be found.

“We work with the DMV to identify owners all that we can,” said Business and Parking Manager for the City of Greensboro Department of Transportation Stephen Carter.

If a debt associated with a particular Social Security Numbers remains unpaid, the amount can be recouped by the state through the owner’s tax refund check.

According to parking collections cashier for the city, the addresses associated with the car through the DMV are often outdated or incorrect, so many of these letters never reach the vehicle owners.

The second highest amount owed to the City of Greensboro for parking fines is associated with EAN Holdings LLC, the corporation that runs Enterprise Rent-A-Car. According to public records, Enterprise owes the City of Greensboro $2,955 in parking fines.

Lisa Martini, a representative for Enterprise, said that the company had been “proactively reaching out to cities throughout the country about this issue since 2011.”

According to a 2013 press release from Enterprise, more than 7,000 cities in the U.S. and Canada were contacted about traffic fines and outstanding tickets. In some cases Enterprise can attempt to collect payment for the fines from individual violators. In other territories – where car rental companies are legally obligated to pay any fines incurred by customers – Enterprise adds an administrative fee to the cost of every rental in order to subsidize potential parking violations.

Martini said that Enterprise was unaware of its current balance with the City of Greensboro, but that the company was looking into that matter.

“We have not received notification of outstanding violations, and we have no record of outstanding violations, however, our processing department has reached out to the City of Greensboro to inquire,” said Martini.

There are 900 metered parking spaces in the Central Business District of Greensboro with rates of 50 cents an hour. Four City-owned parking decks with over 2,700 total spaces charge rates of 75 cents and are free after 6 p.m.

Between the cost of maintaining the parking fund and the revenue collected through fee, the City of Greensboro does not currently make money off of parking. Last year the City collected $2.44 million in parking revenue and spent the same amount on personnel costs and maintenance and operation associated with parking.

This makes the $2.5 million owed to the City in outstanding fees an especially pressing issue.

“There’s gotta be some way to enforce this,” said council member Tony Wilkins.

Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson asked if Council could look into the cost of using more parking boots to help enforce parking violations. Cars that have been booted are anchored in place until the clamp can be removed. The cost of each boot is relatively cheap according to Carter, ranging from $150 to $300 apiece.

“We are not allowed to boot a car unless they have 3 unpaid parking tickets that are at least 90 days old,” said Carter. “Additionally they have to be parked illegally in order for us to boot them.”

The City of Winston-Salem uses wheel-lock procedures to enforce parking fines. If the owner associate with a vehicle has three of more parking tickets that have not been paid within 90 days, and the car is found to be parked illegally again, then the wheel will be locked, immobilizing the car. All outstanding fines must be paid by the owner in order to have the wheel lock removed.

Two and a half million dollars is more than the City’s annual budget for the Nussbaum Housing Partnership and over three times more than the annual budget for the City’s cemeteries.

Carter said the Greensboro is usually able to collect about 60 percent of the fees owed to the City through parking tickets. Through collection efforts made by outside and state agencies, this rate increases to 85 percent after eight or nine years. Parking violations are written off after ten years and records are no longer kept by the City.

As long at the City is able to break even on the cost of maintaining parking spots with the revenue earned, the $2.5 million in uncollected parking violations is not necessarily hurting the City. Other cities have even higher tabs. Local news outlets indicate than the City of Detroit is owed $82 million in uncollected parking fines while Oklahoma City is still missing $13 million in fines.

But as a mid-size city with an airtight budget and a sluggish economic recovery, $2.5 million in uncollected fees still hurts. !

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