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Archive for Friday, March 13, 1992

PARKING PAYOFF

March 13, 1992

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They are the bane of downtown shoppers: the little yellow tickets fining drivers $1 for overstaying the time on the parking meter.

But they are also a boon to taxpayers, says Lawrence City Manager Mike Wildgen, because the fines help maintain downtown features such as trees, benches and parking lots.

The downtown parking control, with its meters and fines, is "a good program because it funds itself," Wildgen said. "It helps keep the downtown looking good."

Fines for overtime parking at meters and for the city's two-hour parking lots generated $213,195 during 1991. And part of that money will be put to use next week for downtown curb work, Wildgen said.

"We're also going to pave two lots, one in the 900 block and one in the 1000 block of Vermont this year," Wildgen said.

The revenue from the tickets goes into an "enterprise" fund in the city budget, which provides money that otherwise would come from property taxes.

"The main revenues are from the meters themselves and from overtime parking," Wildgen said.

IN 1991, the meters brought in $159,409 and the city's parking garage at the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza brought in $170,364. With the ticket fines, the total came to $542,968 for 1991.

Besides paying for the parking control personnel and administration, the money is used to overlay parking lots, maintain curbs, to plant new trees, and maintain landscaping, Wildgen said.

Some of the funds also are used to pay for the public portion of the new lots, such as the new lot at Sixth and Vermont streets, he said.

But even though some people gripe about paying $1 for overstaying their time limit on the meter, others think it's a bargain and abuse the low fines, Wildgen said.

"SOME people use the ticket as a way of paying for parking, so we have some abuse of it," he said. "The dollar ticket is not enough to drive away the people who are abusing it. . . . If you went to a big city, that's pretty cheap parking."

As a way to modernize the current parking control program, the city plans to try out a new computer system in May designed to eliminate some book work, Wildgen said.

Lawrence Police Lt. Mike Reeves, commander of the community services division, said the new system would allow the city to keep better track of the parking tickets written each day.

Rather than carrying a ticket book around each day, parking control officers would each carry a hand-held computer, which they would use to record violations.

AT THE end of the day, the information in the hand-held computers would be downloaded directly into a police station computer, eliminating the need to record the information manually each day, he said.

"It should make it a lot easier to make sure that the information from the parking control officer is accurate," Reeves said. "It's supposed to eliminate mistakes."

City officials will evaluate the system over a 60-day trial period.

Reeves said the city's five full-time parking control officers write an average of between 500 to 800 tickets a day, depending on the weather and the amount of shoppers downtown.

He said four parking control officers usually work each day, one at the city parking garage at the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza and three downtown.

Overtime parking fines are $1 up to 24 hours after the violation, $2 up to 15 days, and after 15 days the police department issues violators a notice that the fine is $4. After four to five more days, the matter is turned over to municipal court, and the fine is $8, he said.

ROD BREMBY, assistant city manager, said his records show that more than 1,000 overtime parking notices were issued by the city's municipal court in 1991.

Police Sgt. Susan Hadl, who oversees the city's full-time parking control officers, said they currently patrol the downtown between 9:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, excluding holidays.

About 1,600 meters are located in the downtown, with most on Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire streets, she said. Persons who are fined for overtime parking can deposit their fines in one of 28 yellow parking meter collection boxes scattered through the downtown.

Hadl, Wildgen and Reeves dispelled a common misconception they said parking meter officers are not paid by how many tickets they write each day.

The officers have no quotas, they said. And the officers are paid by the hour, they said.

Why have metered parking downtown?

Bremby said the program was set up to encourage parking turnover and to discourage downtown employees from taking up the parking spots used by shoppers during the day.

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