ST. PETE BEACH — This city wants tourists to know they are appreciated — and is willing to forgive parking ticket fines to prove it.
When visitors get their first parking ticket, all they will have to do is prove they purchased at least $30 worth of goods or spent an equivalent amount at a restaurant and the ticket will be torn up.
Officials are hoping the public relations move will encourage visitors to shop at local stores and eat and drink at local restaurants.
There are a few caveats, of course — the amnesty program applies only to a single ticket issued for a parking meter or pay station violation.
The ticket must be the first issued by the city to a particular motorist.
Any subsequent tickets will have to be paid in full. If a parking ticket is paid within 15 days, the fine is $30. After 15 days, that fine rises to $45.
Also, the amnesty program does not apply to other kinds of parking violations on city streets.
The idea was originally proposed by Commissioner Greg Premer after a visiting relative had a parking ticket issued in St. Petersburg's downtown forgiven.
That city has had an amnesty program since 2010 and is working quite well, according to interim St. Pete Beach City Manager Elaine Edmunds. Officials said nearly 3,000 tickets were forgiven there last year.
The parking ticket amnesty program in St. Pete Beach, approved unanimously by the City Commission on Tuesday, will be designed after St. Petersburg's program and is expected to start this month, according to Dan O'Connor, administrative services supervisor for the city's parking division.
"It does promote good will, especially for the people from smaller towns where $30 is a pretty heavy parking ticket. This program will take that bad taste out of their mouths," O'Connor said.
He said he plans to have vouchers printed that will accompany every parking ticket issued. The voucher would have to be taken to City Hall with qualifying local retail or restaurant receipts before the ticket would be voided.
Visitors who have already left the city will be able to present their receipts by email or fax, O'Connor said.
O'Connor said that so far this year, the city has generated about $76,000 in parking fines. Less than half (about $20,000) result from parking meter violations.
"In St. Petersburg, the reception to the parking ticket amnesty program was so positive," O'Connor said. "It is an easy program to implement and if it is utilized, we will keep it long-term."
At least one city business owner, John Michaels, hopes the city will broaden the program to include tickets given to people parking illegally on unmetered side streets.
"People are constantly complaining that there is no place to park in the city," Michaels said. "We keep telling people we love you, we love you, but when we get them here we nickel-and-dime them to death."
Mayor Maria Lowe responded that the city would want the program operating first before considering any expansion.