Youngstown council members put parking meter issue on slow track

While Youngstown City Council can sometimes take too long to deliberate controversial issues, its members are correct to take a cautious approach to significant changes to its parking meters ordinance.

That’s because how council implements any changes is important.

But if nothing else, the legislative body should move ahead with plans to be more aggressive with those who have dozens of unpaid parking tickets.

The meters are primarily in the downtown area and in and around Youngstown State University.

Also, with downtown being one of the few success stories in the city, making it more costly to park there may not be the best decision.

There’s plenty of parking at restaurants and bars throughout the Mahoning Valley. Requiring people to pay to park downtown isn’t going to help businesses there.

Parking issues came to forefront in May when Clerk of Courts Sarah Brown-Clark addressed city council calling for a crackdown on those who ignore numerous parking tickets.

She asked council to consider legislation to allow police to put tire boots and/or windshield barnacles – particularly the latter – on vehicles of repeat offenders.

We’re not talking about someone with three or four unpaid parking tickets.

Brown-Clark asked for police to have the authority to put barnacles on vehicles with at least 10 delinquent parking tickets.

One issue that came to light at a Monday city council parking committee meeting is the police department’s ability to find those vehicles.

Lt. William Ross, head of the Youngstown Police Department’s traffic unit, said the department has one squad car that has equipment with the ability to determine if a vehicle has multiple delinquent parking tickets.

There are a number of people with more than 100 delinquent tickets.

There is more than $1 million in unpaid tickets, dating back two decades in some instances. The top 120 offenders owe $170,000 combined.

That’s pretty amazing when you consider parking tickets in the city are $10. The cost goes up to $20 if it’s not paid after 20 days and to $30 if it’s unpaid after 30 days.

Tickets for parking in handicapped spots are $25, and increase to $50 if not paid after 10 days.

Brown-Clark doesn’t want significant changes to the parking-meters ordinance. She just wants to give the police the authority to tow, boot and barnacle vehicles.

The city administration branch wants a complete overhaul.

Council is trying to balance the two.

One idea that was floated by the administration was to increase the cost of parking tickets.

That doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere because if the city is struggling to collect $10 tickets how could it get people to pay $20 tickets with fees that escalate because of delinquency?

Another idea from the administration that was dismissed by city council was to expand the hours for vehicles that park in front of meters.

This would generate more money, but the cost in goodwill would be worse.

The administration wanted to require vehicles to pay to park at meters from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week.

The existing law has enforcement from 8 a.m. to 6 or 8 p.m., depending on the location, on weekdays, and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday in only the central business district.

But enforcement is rare after 5 p.m. and on Saturdays.

The other issue is the city administration’s plans to contract with a company to provide the barnacles and to install more than 100 new meters and oversee the collection. The company would keep a portion of the fines and fees.

The city is discussing these options with Sensys Gatso USA of Beverly, Mass.

One aspect is a great idea – smart meters that allow the use of credit cards as well as coins. This will make paying a lot easier for numerous people.

But a plan to add more meters sounds like it would discourage some people from coming downtown.

Law Director Jeff Limbian said the changes would make more money for the financially-struggling city.

He added: “We’re not looking for financial draconian measures to deter people from coming downtown. We just want everyone to pay their fair share. It’s not fair some people pay $20 [to park in a lot] and some park for free.”

City council is taking its time with this. We’ll see what the final outcome is and when a decision is made.