Archive for Monday, February 29, 2016

City Commission to vote on letting people pay parking fines with canned food

Offering parking violators the option to pay their fines with canned goods or monetary donations to food pantries could turn from idea into reality if approved by the City Commission on Tuesday.

Offering parking violators the option to pay their fines with canned goods or monetary donations to food pantries could turn from idea into reality if approved by the City Commission on Tuesday.

February 29, 2016

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Lawrence residents and frequent visitors are likely all too familiar with the yellow parking tickets stuck onto windshields when drivers don’t pay the downtown meters.

Parking enforcement issued 94,390 of them in 2014, bringing in slightly less than $499,000 in revenue that year from overtime parking fines.

Now, an alternative to paying the $3 ticket is being proposed at City Hall. So too is an idea to increase the fine to $5.

Offering parking violators the option to pay their fines with canned goods or monetary donations to food pantries could turn from idea into reality if approved by the City Commission on Tuesday. But commissioners also are being warned by staff members that the program could have some pitfalls, and may require overtime parking fees to increase to $5, up from $3 currently.

Commissioner Matthew Herbert introduced the idea in December with an appeal that the alternative be offered year-round and not restricted to the holiday season.

“It could be a great thing for our community and those in hunger,” Herbert said at the time. “Hunger is not a seasonal thing.”

On the street

Would you support being able to pay parking fines by donating to a local food bank?

Yes. I’d rather a parking fee go to charity than to the local government.

More responses

But research by staff in the city manager’s and city attorney’s offices and the city finance department cites concerns with that type of program: namely, revenue loss.

Staff projected that the city would receive $30,000 less annually in parking fines, assuming about 6 percent of parking violators participated.

The projected loss is also assuming the option would be available only to those with overtime parking fines, which are initially $3 and increase to $15 after 10 days of nonpayment, and not other types of parking violations.

The city had projected bringing in $545,202 to the parking fund from overtime parking violations in 2016. With the canned food option, that projection falls to $515,202, according to a city memorandum on the issue.

In 2015, the parking fund was used to pay parking meter attendants, municipal court clerks, three police officers, a public works employee to do maintenance on the parking meters and garages, as well as parks and recreation employees for downtown beautification projects.

The projections don’t account for the cost of operating the canned food program, the city memorandum states, which could include additional storage space and fuel needed to transport canned goods to charities.

“…such a program may add an additional strain on Municipal Court resources, ranging from space to keep cans in an already small area with limited storage options, to significant staff time needed for collecting and counting cans, and ensuring that they are properly recorded toward outstanding parking fines,” the memorandum reads.

To make up for a potential revenue loss, Herbert said, the city should raise overtime-parking fines from $3 to $4.

City staff said increasing fines from $3 to $5 would bring in an extra $178,000 annually — enough to cover the revenue loss and the additional cost the program would pose to the city.

Staff based their recommendations to the City Commission on research into eight other U.S. cities that have temporary “Food for Fines” programs: Lexington, Ky., Albany, N.Y., Savannah, Ga., Cincinnati, Ohio, Birmingham, Ala., Stillwater, Okla., Tallahassee, Fla., and Salem, Mass.

None of those cities’ programs were year-round but lasted only one week to two months, mostly during the holiday season.

That was also concerning for staff, who wrote in the memorandum that it would be “difficult to predict additional challenges that may appear.”

Staff said the program may be successful in other cities because it’s temporary and offered during the holidays “when people generally feel charitable.” Participation may not be consistent in a year-round program, staff said.

Another concern highlighted in the city memorandum was selecting which local charities would receive the canned food donations, which could become a “delicate and complex issue,” the memo states.

In his proposal, Herbert suggested allowing parking violators to make a monetary donation to a local food pantry and present a donation receipt to the city in lieu of payment. The only additional responsibility placed on the city, he said, would be creating donations receipt booklets that would be distributed to participating food banks.

City staff said the monetary donation is a possibility, but it comes with an increased potential for fraud.

“…someone could potentially forge a receipt or otherwise obtain a receipt without donating food,” the city memo states.

City Commissioners will be asked Tuesday to vote on one of four options:

• Implement the “Food for Fines” as a pilot program and have the municipal court collect canned goods in lieu of payment temporarily. The City Commission would review the program’s progress and effects sometime in the future.

• Run the program for a short period — two weeks to one month — and then let it expire, such as other cities do during the holidays.

• Establish “Food for Fines” year-round and keep parking fines at $3. This option would lead to a decrease in services provided by the parking fund. Staff noted that the amount of the parking fund set aside for downtown beautification — about $225,000 in 2014 — was already removed from the parking fund in the 2016 budget because of the parking fund’s decreasing balance.

• Establish “Food for Fines” year-round and increase parking fines from $3 to $5.

City commissioners will also be asked to provide other direction, such as which local food banks would receive the canned goods and what types of food would be accepted.

The City Commission convenes at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.


At the meeting, commissioners will also vote on:

• Using $100,000 in the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund for a three-house complex proposed by Habitat For Humanity, Tenants to Homeowners and three other local nonprofits.

The city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board voted Monday to recommend the City Commission fund the building of three homes at 908 La Salle St. The project was the only proposal received after the board put out a call for proposals in January to fund projects that could be complete in 2016. If approved, half of the $100,000 would go to Habitat for Humanity and half to Tenants to Homeowners.

• A $238,540 request from the Parks and Recreation Department to hire staff to combat the emerald ash borer infestation this year.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture confirmed in October that the emerald ash borer was present in Douglas County. Commissioners will be asked Tuesday to choose one of three plans to combat the infestation, which is expected to kill all of the city’s ash trees in the next 10 years. The first option, which Parks and Rec is recommending, is to spend the $238,540 this year on three additional staff members and public outreach. The second option includes hiring one full-time staff member for public outreach and contracting out all of the work to treat, remove and replace ash trees, and the third is to hire a contractor to remove all of the dead ash trees over the next eight years, without replacing them.

The item was on the City Commission's Feb. 16 agenda, but it was deferred because Mayor Mike Amyx could not be in attendance due to illness.

• A new policy on city travel and expenses, including the use of per diem expense accounts.

Under the new policy, city employees, city commissioners and board members on city boards would receive a daily allowance for meals while traveling. The current policy calls for employees to keep and present their receipts for reimbursements. The amount of the allowance has not yet been determined but will be based off IRS guidelines. The guidelines cite the Government Services Administration, which recommends approximately $64 per day for cities in the region.

• A downtown ban on glass bottles and containers during the NCAA tournament.

The Lawrence Police Department is recommending the city adopt a temporary ordinance, making it illegal for people to carry glass bottles and other glass beverage containers in in the downtown public right-of-way during the Elite Eight and Final Four weekends. The ban would be in effect from noon on Saturday, March 26, through 6 a.m. on Monday, March 28, and resume from noon on Saturday, April 2, through 6 a.m. Tuesday, April 5. If caught with glass bottles and containers during those times, violators face a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $100.

In a city memo, the police department says the ordinance was in anticipation of the success of the Kansas University men’s basketball team and would “greatly improve the safety of our citizens and our police officers.”

Comments

David Holroyd 1 year, 2 months ago

Well, when the paid metered parking is implemented on both Indiana street and Mississippi st the city will finally get what's coming to them.The city commission will SHAFT themselves and the taxpayers.

Mr Herbert is beginning to sound a bit like Mr Farmer. I still remember that election night photo with Farmer engaging Mr Herbert.

You see an agreement was signed by HERE, the Chancellor for KU and our departed Mr Corliss. hERE sets the meter rates, HERE keeps the money and the city gets the fines.

So now with a canned good program the city gets nothing.But the city maintains the meters and the agreement can be extended for a period of 90 years.

You have to love it!

Randolf Fellows 1 year, 2 months ago

Let's not tie parking fines to pet projects. While I applaud the idea of encouraging donations to local food charities, I think doing so by adjusting parking fines is a huge mistake. Parking fines should be a punitive measure to discourage illegal parking and ensure parking fees are paid. If we pervert the system by increasing fines to cover the cost of a symbolic gesture, then we are letting the revenue from fines be the focus of the entire exercise. The ideal outcome in issuing parking fines is that everyone pays the fees and avoids the fines. The amount of the fine should be determined by whether it provides a reasonable deterrent for parking illegally. Taking more is thievery. Just because the money may go to a good cause does not make unjustly taking it right. As fines increase, downtown will be viewed as a more and more costly destination, unfriendly to those who may not be able, easily, to pay the parking fines. It's possible that gentrification is one of the hidden goals here, but I would prefer to believe that our city council is misguided, rather than sinister in their motives.

Chris Anderson 1 year, 2 months ago

Fine, increase the fines to generate more revenue and to make sure parking turns over more quickly in congested areas. Run it up the flagpole and see who salutes. Why not increase metered hours to 10:00 PM while you're at it?

Fine, take a vote on spending parking fine revenue to support food charities, Run it up the flagpole and see who salutes. However, was this a priority identified by citizens in the recent comprehensive survey about city needs and priorities?

DO NOT make the city and its staff assume the cost and hassle of accepting, storing, transporting, and accounting for physical food items in lieu of money for parking fines. That is a stupid idea that would waste resources.

Bob Summers 1 year, 2 months ago

What about paying with cigarettes? How many straights will it take for overtime parking?

Al Deathe 1 year, 2 months ago

Would someone please look at the definition of government and read it!

Ken Easthouse 1 year, 2 months ago

As a superstitious person, please don't pass any ordinances "in anticipation of the success of the Kansas University men’s basketball team." That's just asking to jinx ourselves to an early exit!

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 1 year, 2 months ago

The only way that this should work is if the person getting the ticket, drives straight to the grocery store, buys $5 of canned goods, gives the checker the parking ticket, the checker staples it to the sack of goods, along with the receipt, and puts it into a donation box. Otherwise, you will have people who clean out their pantries and put in the 5 cans of peas that have been sitting there for the last 10 years. I would think that most people, especially those from out of town, would find it easier to just pay the ticket.

Judy J Romero 1 year, 2 months ago

No to food in payment of parking ticket. You know how much bad canned food is out there!!! Let food pantries select food.

David Holroyd 1 year, 2 months ago

To Ms Hoyt-Reed: One would not need to take $5.00 worth of canned goods. Look at the other cities. You can pay with canned goods less than the fine amount.

Lawrence must have one of the most dumbest business minded commissions yet. A landlord serves on the commission , would he would raise his late fees if rent isn't paid? Look, the rent is what the subject is. If no money for rent why would one increase the late fee other than to gouge the tenant.. How does increasing the fine create one to pay the fine?

The public has never read in the paper yet the dollar amount of fines outstanding. How about a story about facts? And for that matter, it makes more sense to install meters in every parking space downtown and charge for parking....oh but then there would be one less person with chalk on a stick.

And taking the "food' to a food pantry? OMG, good Farmer isn't around. Just Food wanted CASH!. And this new director, praise her forever, but when one looks at the cash income and the cash outlay for JUST FOOD, all the cash is gone! Too bad the Journal World cannot do a real investigative story on 501 charitable groups and the theft and misdirection on the boards of directors.

And now, FREE bus rides? How will that encourage more riders? Well, after someone gets the $200,000 for the study, the only beneficiary is the recipient of the $200,000.

Let's see if Crossland (remember that name for being a donor for Rassmussen?) gets their freebie cash via Change Order tonite. They are picking up what is left until RD Johnson hops on the money train.

Is there not ONE commissioner that understands the use of public money and the fiduciary responsibility? Apparently not.

Face it, Lawrence is dead. NO employment coming of substance. No cutting of budgets to lower property taxes. Hey how about Paula Gilchrist at the Treasurer's office let folks bring in garbanzo beans and canned spinach to defray their interest on property taxes And maybe the water dept as well. I am sure Mr. Kidney won't mind being paid in canned goods.

If even ONE commissioner votes in favor of this latest hairbrained idea, remember that Commissioner's name for a long time.

When is the Journal World going to enlighten the town on the Corliss, HERE and Bernadette scheme for parking. I am truly disappointed that Chancellor Gray Little signed off on that Agreement in 2014. From now on, the mayor and three commissioners need to start signing the agreements. Maybe then they would read them. Ms. Henderson spoke about Mr. McCullough and she was dead on. The issues I don't agree with her , but certainly his backhanded approach to dealing with zoning. He is about the pull the wool over again on an entire entire neighborhood with regards to zoning and usage.

As long as the CITY COMMISSION allows the staff to run the city , Lawrence is really, really screwed up.

They may be voting as I write, since I am in a time zone change.

Melinda Henderson 1 year, 2 months ago

"Ms. Henderson spoke about Mr. McCullough and she was dead on."

I'm flattered, Wilbur. Seriously. Thank you for noticing.

Carol Bowen 1 year, 2 months ago

I'm all for innovative ideas. Old ideas are tried, true and stale. Unfortunately, with the shakeup on the city commission and the shakeup in the city administration, we should spend a year in a holding pattern. We need to ground ourselves and move forward. Discussions about bus fares and parking tickets are small amounts of money, but let's concentrate on the big stuff now and stabilize.

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