Tickets add up in the city
Tickets add up in the city By Gil Smart, Staff Writer email@example.com
The Rev. Kelly Jo Singleton went out to feed the parking meter along West Walnut Street about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, and there it was:
A parking ticket.
Another parking ticket.
"I had to laugh," said Singleton, who'd just finished getting her photo taken for this story. Like the other 119 parking tickets she's received since Jan. 1, 2012, this one will be paid: another $10 out of Singleton's wallet, and into city coffers.
Call it a curbside tax. And it costs some city residents thousands of dollars a year.
A Lancaster Newspapers analysis of all city parking tickets issued since Jan. 1, 2012, found more than 105,000 tickets -- which generated well over $1.5 million in revenue. The records were obtained through a right-to-know request.
Sizable chunks of that money came from a select group of city residents and workers who were ticketed dozens -- even hundreds -- of times.
Four people got more than 100 tickets during the 15-month span; the top recipient was a local mortgage banker who tallied 154 -- paying nearly $2,600 in fines to the City of Lancaster.
All told, the top 10 ticket recipients were cited a total of 877 times and fined $21,545 -- most of which was paid off.
Many, like Singleton, say they have little choice but to incur the tickets. In her neighborhood, near the corner of North Duke and East Walnut streets, there's no permit parking, only meters. The Duke Street Parking Garage is a little over a block away, but the distance, and garage itself, makes her uneasy, especially at night.
So she parks on the street, gets ticketed, pays the tickets -- and waits for more.
"It's not very fair for people who live in the city," she said.
In all, 101 people were ticketed 24 times or more during the 15-month span, amassing fines of $101,180.
Gail Johnson, manager of PNC Mortgage at 25 N. Duke St., got 154 tickets between Jan. 1, 2012, and March 25 of this year -- the most received by any individual. All but one were for meter violations. Almost all fines were paid immediately; Johnson has paid $2,550 in parking fines over the past 15 months.
She declined to be interviewed for this story.
Kelly Grube, of Wrightsville, received the second-highest number of tickets, with 122 citations since Jan. 1, 2012 -- all but six of which were for meter violations. Grube also paid all her fines, remitting $2,690 to the city. She did not return a phone message seeking comment.
Singleton, interfaith minister at the Eternal Light Spiritual Center in Lancaster, had the third-highest ticket total; of her 119 tickets, 109 were for meter violations. Her fines totaled $2,035; she paid them all.
William David Barr amassed 66 tickets with one vehicle, 46 with another, for a total of 112. Said Barr, who lives on East King Street, "We have a garage leased through HDC around the corner, on Shippen Street, but my wife and I have two small children," he said. "I wish we didn't have so many tickets, but when I look at that relative to the comfort of being able to park in front to get the groceries in and be able to get our girls in and out when it's cold, it's worth it."
Barr said safety is another issue. "In our neighborhood, a two-block radius, there have been four murders since we moved in," he said. "Particularly in wintertime when it's dark, and she's coming home from doing something with the kids after school, or with groceries, I don't want her to have to make two to three trips from Shippen Street with her arms full."
The most heavily fined individual was Christina Morales, whose 89 tickets totaled $3,715 in fines. Morales did not return a message seeking comment.
Six others were fined $2,000 or more during the period; 40 people were fined between $1,000 and $2,000.
Alan Goldberg, of the downtown firm Goldberg & Beyer, got 72 tickets during the span -- 69 of which were for meter violations -- and was fined $1,300, all of which he paid.
"I get a ticket because I forgot to put money in or go over time," said Goldberg. "I view it as a cost of saving time. I have a pass to the Prince Street garage, but sometimes it is more efficient to park closer to my office and get a ticket."
Fees tacked on for failing to pay within 15 days can cause the ultimate price of a ticket to skyrocket. If the city sends a warning notice to remind drivers to pay a ticket, an additional $10 is added to the original fine. If the citation still isn't paid, and is referred to a magisterial district judge, another $15 is tacked on.
As a result, it doesn't take a lot of tickets to rack up a big fine. One driver racked up $1,350 in fines on just 17 tickets; another got 10 tickets, and was fined a total of $1,120.
Most days, eight city employees are on the prowl for parking violators.
Five "parking enforcement aides" -- they used to be called "meter maids" -- check meters and neighborhoods where parking is by permit only. Another three are "sweeper escorts" who ticket vehicles parked on the street on days the street cleaners come through.
"Meter violations, permit parking violations and street cleaning violations represented more than 75 percent of all tickets issued in 2012," said Patrick Hopkins, the city's director of administrative services.
In 2012, parking tickets generated at least $1.51 million -- and probably more.
That's because many violators who don't pay their tickets within 15 days, and ignore a subsequent warning letter, have their cases referred to a local magisterial district judge.
Fines paid at the district justice level are remitted to the city, said Hopkins, but on a monthly basis, along with other, nonparking fines. The city has no real way of knowing how much of its monthly check from the judges comes from parking violations.
City parking ticket revenue jumped, on average, by at least $300,000 annually beginning in 2006, when new, higher fines went into effect.
The $1.51 million-plus generated in 2012 accounted for more than 3 percent of all city revenues that year.
And the drivers who got the most tickets paid more in fines than some city homeowners paid in property tax.
Parking tickets are a huge source of revenue for cities nationwide. In 2011, Washington, D.C., took in $92.6 million in ticket revenue, an all-time high. In Seattle, ticket revenue has risen 31 percent since 2009; in Philadelphia, city officials say more residents are taking pains to park legally -- and that's expected to lead to a $3.8 million decline in the city's parking ticket revenue, from $47.4 million in 2012 to a projected $43.6 million this year.
Tickets are "being written with increasing frequency these days as cash-strapped cities attempt to tap every available source of revenue," reported Forbes Magazine last year. "Not only are municipalities making parking costlier and more restrictive, according to the International Parking Institute, proceeds -- which traditionally were reinvested in parking and transportation-related maintenance and services -- are now being tapped to fund other programs."
In Lancaster, ticket revenue goes into the city's general fund, Hopkins said. Ticket revenue has averaged $1.5 million each year since 2006.
It's a stable source of revenue. But is it fair?
Several of the people interviewed for this story said they didn't feel as if city officials understand what it's like to live in a neighborhood without permit parking, where the only options are to feed the meters on the street or hike to a garage blocks away.
William David Barr, the East King Street resident who amassed 112 tickets between his two vehicles, said there were no parking meters on his block until about two years ago. "It's pretty clear to me this is a money-making scheme," he said.
Barr is president of Williams-Forrest.com, a digital marketing firm that he started in Atlanta but brought back to Lancaster, where he grew up.
He and his wife made a conscious choice to live in the city, "but it almost seems like the city is trying to make it difficult for people to live here ... it's like death by 1,000 cuts."
Rev. Singleton noted that if she did feed the meter all day -- 10 hours at $3 per hour, as a quarter buys you 10 minutes -- it would cost her $30 per day to park on the street near her apartment.
Tickets are cheaper.
"The city wants people to live here," she said. "But they don't make it inviting for those with vehicles."n
For some motorists, convenience is worth price. Call it a curbside tax.