ST. PETERSBURG — Parking scofflaws are the target of a new city crackdown to recoup uncollected fines.
Mayor Bill Foster said the city will begin booting cars owned by the "worst offenders," or those who have at least 10 outstanding parking tickets or owe more than $500 in city tickets.
"Once I saw the list of violators, it just made me angry," Foster said. "You know it's intentional. Nobody gets 50 to 100 tickets and refuses to pay all of them. People might get angry over a ticket, and they'll complain and try to get out of it and then eventually pay it. But 10, 20, 100 unpaid tickets? That's unacceptable."
The tougher enforcement is part of an overhaul of downtown's parking system, which Foster started this summer. It includes limited hours of enforcement for downtown's parking meters, a 25-cent increase in hourly rates, an amnesty program for first-time violators, and a new pay system that lets drivers pay by cell phone.
Parking enforcement also is changing the way it detects violators who park in unmetered spaces. Officials now chalk the tires of cars and check back to see if the car has overstayed its allotted time. If a chalk mark is there, it gets a ticket. Beginning in August, cameras will scan license tags to detect violators.
On average, the city collects on about 93 percent of tickets, which leaves about $200,000 in unpaid fines every year. The city now has more than $1 million in uncollected fines.
Enforcement is limited to sending reminder notices to those who don't pay the $25 for an overtime parking ticket within 14 days. The ticket then increases to $40. Three more notices are sent until the 110th day the ticket goes unpaid. The city then enlists a collection agency.
If a collection isn't received, it's turned over to the city's legal department, which then attempts to collect.
Meanwhile, the city notifies the Department of Motor Vehicles of motorists with three or more unpaid tickets. These violators won't be allowed to renew their registration and tag. But for many of those violators, it's often cheaper to buy a new tag to avoid paying the tickets, Foster said.
The City Council will vote on the booting ordinance in August and, if approved, it could be enforced by September.
Joe Kubicki, the city's director of transportation and parking, said he's been talking with cities such as Tampa that use the boot to seek advice.
He said the city will typically attach a large metal clamp on a wheel of cars identified as belonging to violators, making them impossible to drive. The clamp can't be taken off until tickets are paid.
"This is going to be unpopular," Foster said. "But it's only going to be unpopular for those who have numerous outstanding parking tickets, who have numerous warnings and reminders to pay, and simply choose not to."
Many on the list, which includes unpaid tickets from several years ago, couldn't be reached. Others reached declined comment. For instance, Amy Kiser, who along with her ex-husband David Kiser, was listed as the No. 1 scofflaw. City records show they owe $8,000 for 107 unpaid tickets. She declined comment Friday.
Kelly Potter, who is listed as owing $3,117 for 42 tickets, is in jail for violating her probation for leaving the scene of an accident. Her mother, Judy Potter, said her 32-year-old daughter accumulated the tickets when she lived in a downtown apartment on Fifth Avenue N. She'd park in the street overnight when parking wasn't enforced. But come morning, she'd frequently oversleep and get a ticket. Often she'd race outside only to find out it was too late.
"She felt like she had so many, she thought, 'What's one more?' " Judy Potter said.
Potter said her daughter had a run of bad luck. She had surgery on her right leg, but needs another. She doesn't have a job and doesn't have the money to pay the tickets or the second surgery.
"It sounds like she deliberately got the tickets and didn't care," Potter said. "But she really did care a lot, it just kept going downhill. I've never seen anybody with such rotten luck get into these really bizarre jams."
St. Petersburg Times staff writer Anne Lindberg was listed as having not paid $505 for seven tickets. At least one former Times employee also made the list, a photographer named Kinfay Moroti, who was listed as owing $160 for three tickets. Lindberg said she paid the fees online Friday night. Moroti said he plans to pay soon.
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story has been changed to reflect the following correction:
In a Saturday 1B story about St. Petersburg's plans to be more aggressive in collecting parking fines, a list of the top violators the city provided contained errors. Elsie Wanjohi, who was on that list, does not owe any fines, according to Paula Smith, a customer service supervisor with the city. Kinfay Moroti owes $160 from three unpaid tickets. The list showed higher amounts due. The errors were the result of an erroneous data transfer, Smith said.