Officers hand out tickets but most fines go unpaid

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Richmond County sheriff's Deputy Colleen Bowling patrols up and down Broad Street each weekday, handing out tickets to people trying to skirt the city's parking rules.

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Augusta Richmond County Sheriff's Deputy Colleen Bowling listens as a woman talks her way out of getting a parking ticket on Broad Street.  Michael Holahan/Staff
Michael Holahan/Staff
Augusta Richmond County Sheriff's Deputy Colleen Bowling listens as a woman talks her way out of getting a parking ticket on Broad Street.

It's not difficult to spot violators -- usually people who park in yellow loading areas, fire zones or unmarked spaces. On a recent weekday, Deputy Bowling wrote at least five tickets in the span of about 15 minutes as she swept Broad Street and downtown side streets.

But once those tickets are written, there is a good chance they will never be paid. In 2009, 569 of 1,377 tickets -- about 41 percent -- were paid, according to Richmond County sheriff's Lt. Judy McMinn, whose record department processes parking tickets.

In 2008, about 38 percent of tickets, or 654 of 1,705 citations, were paid, Lt. McMinn said.

At $20 a ticket, that equals $37,180 in unpaid fines during the past two years.

"I'm sure some people know they can get away with not paying parking tickets," Deputy Bowling said. "There's absolutely nothing I can do with that."

Enforcing parking ticket payments is tricky, officials said. The city's Municipal Court, which had handled parking violations, was gradually eliminated after city and county government consolidation was enacted in 1996.

The Augusta-Richmond County code does not assign a court for contested tickets, providing little room for mediation. The ordinance states that violators who accumulate $45 worth of tickets or more can have their vehicles impounded by the sheriff's office, but that measure isn't used very often, Col. Gary Powell said.

"(Tickets) sit in files until they're paid," Lt. McMinn said. "They're not forwarded to anyone else."

City Administrator Fred Russell said the county has studied the issue but decided the financial benefit of setting up a mediation process likely wouldn't be worth the costs.

"We weren't really doing ourselves a whole lot of good financially," he said.

Given the current rate of fine collections, it might be time for officials to revisit the issue, Mr. Russell added.

It is unclear how much in fines has accumulated since consolidation. Lt. McMinn said her computerized records do not reach back that far.

But even if Augusta decided to pursue those who haven't paid, history suggests that would have little financial impact.

In 1995, during a budget crisis, officials tried to raise $300,000 by targeting violators who had not paid. Only $30,000 was collected by the end of 1996, even after the city sent letters threatening jail time for unpaid fines.

The Downtown Development Authority of Augusta has proposed a new parking system that would include meters and a new enforcement policy.

"When you don't have any enforcement mechanism in place, it's hard to give tickets," said Margaret Woodard, the executive director of the authority.

She said new sensors would help identify vehicles that have overstayed their meter limits. The plan, modeled after the system in Charlotte, N.C., also would include a mediation system. Unpaid tickets would be turned over to a collection agency, she said.

Changes to the downtown parking system are still in the discussion phase and would have to be approved by the Augusta Commission.

A new ordinance would be needed for the DDA's efforts to be more successful than those of the sheriff's office's, Lt. Powell said.

"Unless they establish a court for citations, it wouldn't be any different," he said.

Reach Erin Zureick at (706) 823-3217 or erin.zureick@augustachronicle.com.

PARKING TICKETS PAID

2009: 569 of 1,377 issued (41 percent)

2008: 654 of 1,705 issued (38 percent)

BY THE NUMBERS

41 percent of parking tickets paid in 2009, 569 of 1,377 issued

38 percent of parking tickets paid in 2008, 654 of 1,705 issued

$37,180 estimated unpaid parking fines from 2008 and 2009

Source: Richmond County Sheriff's Lt. Judy McMinn

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jamesj
0
Points
jamesj 01/18/10 - 10:07 am
0
0
It is actually a smart move a

It is actually a smart move a VERY SMART move to not enfore these tickets, do the math, now save more money and quit writing the tickets.

crackerjack
150
Points
crackerjack 01/18/10 - 10:20 am
0
0
It's easy to tell which cars

It's easy to tell which cars belong to Justasses friends. The ones with Christmas trees hanging on the mirrors.

disssman
6
Points
disssman 01/18/10 - 10:25 am
0
0
Isn't the sheriffs department

Isn't the sheriffs department involved with re-licensing of vehicles every year? Why would a license be re-issued to someone with outstanding tickets or warrants. I believe that a person with a 3d grade education could solve this problem.

jamesj
0
Points
jamesj 01/18/10 - 10:28 am
0
0
disssman , you must be

disssman , you must be allowed your day in court to defend yourself. They closed the court that handles these cases.

disssman
6
Points
disssman 01/18/10 - 10:29 am
0
0
BTW I am still waiting to

BTW I am still waiting to hear the cost of the "installation" and "operation" and "maintenance" for margy's little project. In the meantime why not start "booting" cars? That would surely bring loads of people downtown and make oodles of money for the police impound fees. On the other hand, it may just shut the imperial section of Augusta down at which point the rest of the consolidated city would start to thrive.

jamesj
0
Points
jamesj 01/18/10 - 10:48 am
0
0
I’m glad to see they got

I’m glad to see they got someone who can actually do math .All of the tickets written might pay a single officers salary for the year, but not with the judges pay, the bailiffs pay the clerks pay. It’s just not worth it to enforce them. Now quit writing them, move the officers to a more productive job where they actually earn their pay, and do some good for the county.

spotted_assassin
63
Points
spotted_assassin 01/18/10 - 10:56 am
0
0
Hey, just go the "Parking

Hey, just go the "Parking Wars" route! That way, the city can create more jobs hiring people to enforce the laws (Booting, patroling, collecting moneys), and the city can get paid from all the violators!

jamesj
0
Points
jamesj 01/18/10 - 10:58 am
0
0
spotted_assassin, they get to

spotted_assassin, they get to go to court..... all the violators in Augusta would not cover the cost

fiscallyresponsible
141
Points
fiscallyresponsible 01/18/10 - 11:10 am
0
0
This, my friends, is your

This, my friends, is your government hard at work. Just wait until they get control of your healthcare.

fd1962
26
Points
fd1962 01/18/10 - 11:46 am
0
0
In actuality, jamesj,
Unpublished

In actuality, jamesj, individual Counties administer vehicle licensing and registration for the State. If a person's auto insurance lapses during the year, they are unable to purchase new plates or transfer registration until / unless insurance is reinstated and a hefty lapse penalty is paid first. 'Going to court' is not an issue. Why should parking tickets be any different?

jamesj
0
Points
jamesj 01/18/10 - 11:52 am
0
0
Because you are given the

Because you are given the chance to prove they were wrong, with the tickets you are not.

fd1962
26
Points
fd1962 01/18/10 - 12:08 pm
0
0
I fail to see the
Unpublished

I fail to see the distinction, jamesj. No hearing is provided for whether your insurance lapsed or not. Both examples seem workable.

ispy4u
0
Points
ispy4u 01/18/10 - 12:09 pm
0
0
I write you a ticket for

I write you a ticket for illegally parking and you were. You take it to court and lose then you are charged court cost. Pays for Judges and administration cost. Very rarely do you beat any tickets in court.

ispy4u
0
Points
ispy4u 01/18/10 - 12:10 pm
0
0
FD, I agree with you. Hell it

FD, I agree with you. Hell it is easier to beat a Disorderly ticket than a traffic ticket.

fd1962
26
Points
fd1962 01/18/10 - 12:20 pm
0
0
Right, ispy4u. It seems
Unpublished

Right, ispy4u. It seems jamesj should protest a parking ticket at the time he addresses the payment of the fine. Ignoring the issue is not a solution.

jamesj
0
Points
jamesj 01/18/10 - 12:20 pm
0
0
Bill of rights? Due process?

Bill of rights? Due process? Make sense now?

jamesj
0
Points
jamesj 01/18/10 - 12:23 pm
0
0
they must give you the chance

they must give you the chance to defend yourself, with the insurance, you show them the paper showing you had it, if they still try to charge you, you take them to court, yes court is allowed.

jamesj
0
Points
jamesj 01/18/10 - 12:24 pm
0
0
Excyse me court is a RIGHT.

Excyse me court is a RIGHT.

jamesj
0
Points
jamesj 01/18/10 - 12:25 pm
0
0
I wish edit was fixed...

I wish edit was fixed...

fd1962
26
Points
fd1962 01/18/10 - 12:48 pm
0
0
If the County refuses to
Unpublished

If the County refuses to issue your state license plate over an unpaid ticket, why couldn't you then take them to a State court? Those haven't been eliminated last I checked.

jamesj
0
Points
jamesj 01/18/10 - 12:53 pm
0
0
I am not a lawyer but I think

I am not a lawyer but I think it is because it is cheaper to lose about 16,000 a year than to try to change the bill of rights. And maybe be sued for a bunch more money by the people who's rights was infringed upon. and then have to start the court or give up the funds anyway. The fight is just not worth it.

fd1962
26
Points
fd1962 01/18/10 - 01:03 pm
0
0
The demise of the Municipal
Unpublished

The demise of the Municipal court doesn't invalidate the legality of a parking ticket, does it? The Magistrate and State courts are are full of people answering similar infractions. Certainly they would hear your protest that your car wasn't actually in the Fire Lane if you thought you could prove it.

jamesj
0
Points
jamesj 01/18/10 - 01:09 pm
0
0
That may infringe on the

That may infringe on the speedy part of the trial, but I'm not sure, Or they may not "hear" that type of case in those courts. The person who decided this was actually a whole lot smarter than they are being given credit for, So I figure they had a good reason.

fd1962
26
Points
fd1962 01/18/10 - 01:16 pm
0
0
Jamesj, if you had a
Unpublished

Jamesj, if you had a legitimate reason to contest a parking ticket, you don't sit around for ten years waiting for a new Augusta-Richmond County Code to assign a court for contested tickets, you force the issue by filing your complaint in a different court, don't you? Wouldn't the Bill of Rights and Due Process provide for that?

corgimom
32500
Points
corgimom 01/18/10 - 01:21 pm
0
0
Parking tickets aren't state,

Parking tickets aren't state, they are Municipal. That's why no one has to pay them, fd. There's no court, hence no penalties.

sueboo418
37
Points
sueboo418 01/18/10 - 01:37 pm
0
0
Deputy Bowling got me last

Deputy Bowling got me last July. I parked in one of those 30 minutes loading and unloading zones only because I was leaving work and had to stop by Wachovia to make a work deposit before heading to the University hospital when they took my mother off her ventilator that day and she passed away. The only reason I parked there was because there was no other available parking due to all the employees in the businesses on Broad Street that park out there all day. I wasn't in the bank 5 minutes and came out and had a ticket and she was nowhere to be seen. I did call her and explained the situation and she was nice enough to let me slide given the situation. But parking downtown IS a problem for customers who want to come down here. I work down here and I pay for my parking so I don't have to deal with scrambling around every day looking for a spot and worrying about moving it every 2 hours. Oh and Justass just for the record, I'm white.

jamesj
0
Points
jamesj 01/18/10 - 01:38 pm
0
0
The way it was explained to

The way it was explained to me is,If the complaint is against you, they must take you to court, not you take them.They are in a sense "calling you out" so they have to prosecute you in court, you can avoid the court by pleading guilty and paying the fine or plead innocent and have your day in court.

fd1962
26
Points
fd1962 01/18/10 - 01:38 pm
0
0
I understand that, corgimom.
Unpublished

I understand that, corgimom. We're discussing a solution, mainly, if the County were to decline issuing your State license plate until your outstanding fines are paid, then a parking penalty would become a State court issue if contested. Seems reasonable to me.

Chillen
17
Points
Chillen 01/18/10 - 01:40 pm
0
0
Can't databases be somehow

Can't databases be somehow combined? If you get a parking ticket it gets noted in the tag registration database. No one with an outstanding balance gets their tags renewed. If you have no teeth behind your law then everyone will start ignoring it.

jamesj
0
Points
jamesj 01/18/10 - 01:43 pm
0
0
Chillen, yes but then they

Chillen, yes but then they have to open a 150,000 dollar a year court, to collect 16-18,000.

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