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Tickets may rise in St. Petersburg

Better keep closer tabs on that parking meter, because the cost of an overtime violation in St. Petersburg is probably going up.

It is the municipal equivalent of keeping up with the Joneses: St. Petersburg has one of the cheapest parking tickets among Florida's larger cities. A proposal scheduled for City Council's consideration next week would change that.

If council approves, the cost of an overtime infraction would rise from $7.50 to $10. The additional revenue would help finance the city's school crossing guard program.

St. Petersburg Mayor David Fischer has said he got the idea to raise overtime parking fines after he received a parking ticket this past summer.

But he got the ticket in front of the Pinellas County Courthouse in Clearwater. It cost him $15, twice as much as a St. Petersburg ticket.

City officials have since called around the state and discovered that St. Petersburg is a parking violator's dream. It costs $15 to pay a parking ticket in Miami, Clearwater and Fort Lauderdale. It costs $10 in Tampa and Orlando.

"The proposed increase will put St. Petersburg in line with other similar municipalities," the memo to council urging the increase says succinctly.

According to the city's Traffic Engineering Department, about 32,000 overtime parking tickets were written in 1993. If that pace continues, a $2.50 increase would generate roughly $80,000 annually.

The additional money would be applied toward the city's $353,000 annual budget for the 55 crossing guards that help children safely cross city streets on school days. The program already receives about $82,000 each year from a $4 charge that's tacked onto tickets for moving violations.

State law allows local jurisdictions to specifically earmark a portion of their vehicular fines for crossing guards.

The remainder of the budget for the crossing guard program _ about $191,000 _ comes from the city's general fund, the lion's share of which is financed by property taxes.

In other words, as parking fines increase to help pay for crossing guards, the program's reliance on property taxes decreases.