Originally created 01/02/05

Parking tickets often go unpaid

Augusta is on the honor system when it comes to parking tickets, and past collection efforts have been less than crowning successes.

In 2004, Richmond County sheriff's deputies wrote $40,320 in parking tickets but collected only $5,560, about 14 percent, from residents' payments, according to the office's records.

The unpaid tickets are in a drawer in a cabinet in the records department where unpaid tickets from bygone years reside. If you've been worrying that you might have a few there for which the long arm of the law will reach out one day and grab you, relax. That is, if you got them before 2003.

After two years, the tickets are invalid, Lt. Judy McMinn said.

Illegal parking, which carries a $20 fine, and parking in handicapped spaces, which carries a hefty $500 fine, are state code violations, but parking tickets are not citations but county ordinance violations, Lt. McMinn said.

In addition, parking tickets in Augusta are not governed by any court, she said.

Officers can't write a citation from which a bench warrant could be issued if the fine is not paid because they don't know the driver's name, address, Social Security number or even whether the person in whose name the tag is registered still owns the vehicle, Col. Gary Powell said. And deputies also have no computer to look it up.

Even if they did, they couldn't be sure that was the person who parked the vehicle, so the wrong person could get arrested.

Mayor Bob Young said he has been working with Sheriff Ronnie Strength and the Downtown Development Authority on a proposal that would allow the authority to take over the enforcement and collection of parking tickets.

"We're not quite ready to bring it forward yet, but it's something that I have been aware of. There is a problem there," Mr. Young said.

Some other cities use their downtown development authority as their parking enforcement agency, he said.

The last time the city cracked down on parking fines was in 1995, when then-Mayor Charles DeVaney, in an effort to raise revenue in the financially strapped city, spearheaded a drive to collect the fines from 30,000 parking tickets through Municipal Court. The collection effort yielded about $30,000 instead of the hoped-for $300,000.

Many people who owed fines, some hundreds of dollars, paid up or signed agreements to pay over time.

That collection effort went by the wayside after the city and county consolidated in 1996.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.


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