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

Comments (73) Add comment
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waugusta92
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waugusta92 01/18/10 - 01:46 pm
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"I'm sure some people know

"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." LOL well i DIDNT know but i sure do now! haha downtown augusta is a joke.

jamesj
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jamesj 01/18/10 - 01:46 pm
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FD, parking would have to

FD, parking would have to become a state law for that to happen. Otherwise the state cannot legally do it.

Chillen
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Chillen 01/18/10 - 01:47 pm
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Wow, then what's the point?

Wow, then what's the point? If they don't have a way of enforcing it, why would any sane person pay it? I say save the money and just forget giving parking tickets altogether.

jamesj
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jamesj 01/18/10 - 01:48 pm
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Thats what they should do,

Thats what they should do, and move the officer to a different job.

Chillen
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Chillen 01/18/10 - 01:49 pm
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Like getting a handle on

Like getting a handle on crime down there.

CarlA
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CarlA 01/18/10 - 01:49 pm
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Look at Charleston, SC. That

Look at Charleston, SC. That city makes a FORTUNE off of parking ticket revenue.

fd1962
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fd1962 01/18/10 - 01:51 pm
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Yes, but violations would
Unpublished

Yes, but violations would then be under State court jurisdiction, an existing system. On the other hand, what municipality wouldn't jump at an opportunity to EXPAND a bureaucracy?

fd1962
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fd1962 01/18/10 - 01:55 pm
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Charleston is different.
Unpublished

Charleston is different. People actually want to go there.

jamesj
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jamesj 01/18/10 - 01:56 pm
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the funds would go to the

the funds would go to the state then.

fd1962
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fd1962 01/18/10 - 02:05 pm
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That is a good point.
Unpublished

That is a good point.

jamesj
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jamesj 01/18/10 - 02:18 pm
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If they could find a way to

If they could find a way to make "infractions" the same as moving violations, they could use traffic court for both. Or a better idea, drop the fine to $19.00

corgimom
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corgimom 01/18/10 - 02:32 pm
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I remember when the fine was

I remember when the fine was very low. You would look down Broad St and see ticket after ticket after ticket on everyone's windshields.

Chillen
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Chillen 01/18/10 - 02:37 pm
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Just wait until the parking

Just wait until the parking meters are installed. Then they can write even more tickets that will go unpaid.

IsAmericaFree
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IsAmericaFree 01/18/10 - 02:58 pm
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How about if they don't pay,

How about if they don't pay, suspend the registration? Then they have to pay the fines in order to get new tags.

fatboyhog
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fatboyhog 01/18/10 - 02:58 pm
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How much does this Deputy get

How much does this Deputy get paid? This sounds like a waste of manpower. Is Deputy Bowling a certified officer? If so, why are they paying her to write unenforceable tickets? She should be in a patrol car. Do you really need a certified law enforcement officer writing ticket to place on cars?

LadyCisback
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LadyCisback 01/18/10 - 03:02 pm
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they are just mad because

they are just mad because their donuts and coffee funds is low!!

baronvonreich
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baronvonreich 01/18/10 - 05:14 pm
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It is easy to collect the

It is easy to collect the fines but our local and state governments are so inept it is pathetic.

veritas14
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veritas14 01/18/10 - 06:23 pm
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Let's elevate Chiquita to

Let's elevate Chiquita to Judge and bring her back to run the traffic court. Makes as much sense as some of the ideas from the city government.

disssman
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disssman 01/18/10 - 06:40 pm
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Julian I didb't know the

Julian I didb't know the downtown merchants owned the streets. I always thought everyone in the county paid taxes equally. Oh well I guess the folks in the mall are compaining because the city dosen't fix their parking lots. And James if they would redo the city code to include parking violations, maybe they wouldn't have a problem. I find it hard to believe our sheriff has a deputy performing a service that will not stand up in court. Parking tickets are the same as speeding, they are both violations of traffic laws.

disssman
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disssman 01/18/10 - 06:43 pm
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BTW how was Margy and her

BTW how was Margy and her stormtroopers going to do it? It would be illegal to Boot a car if there was no court to protest.

disssman
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disssman 01/18/10 - 06:47 pm
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ladt cisback I find your

ladt cisback I find your reference to doughnuts offensive. I have met many fine andknowledgeable officers in the CSRA and I doubt any of them are deserving of your comment. BTW the officers downtown are a very responsive and dedicated group.

corgimom
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corgimom 01/18/10 - 08:39 pm
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You're so Augusta if you

You're so Augusta if you ticket a car- and they don't have to pay the ticket. And then the DDA wants to put in parking meters- that no one will use, so that they can write more tickets- that no one has to pay.

Does_it_really_matter
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Does_it_really_matter 01/18/10 - 10:47 pm
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Justus, you are an

Justus, you are an idiot.......Look, I can type that! Great country, eh?

BakersfieldCityLimits
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BakersfieldCityLimits 01/18/10 - 10:51 pm
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How can she write the tickets

How can she write the tickets while sitting at the police station at Daniel Village, thats what I what to know.

LadyCisback
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LadyCisback 01/19/10 - 03:19 am
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I don't care!! All the ones

I don't care!! All the ones that I have met are very questionable and have no knowledge beyond a made up certificate at a made virtual school!!

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