Unpaid parking tickets land downtown scofflaws in court

Unpaid+downtown+Macon+parking+tickets+will+triple+your+fine+and+could+land+you+in+Municipal+Court.+

Liz Fabian

Unpaid downtown Macon parking tickets will triple your fine and could land you in Municipal Court.

Those who think there is no penalty for not paying downtown parking tickets could be in for a rude awakening in court.

The Urban Development Authority installed meters three years ago to manage growth and make sure patrons had a place to park.

Turns out, the worst scofflaws are those the meters were designed to protect – the people who make their livelihood downtown.

“We have names,” Alex Morrison told authority members late last year. “I can confirm that most of them are employees.”

After a pandemic delay, dozens of them are headed for Municipal Court beginning next month.

Authority chairwoman Kay Gerhardt shared a story of a friend’s daughter finding a parking ticket on the ground, thinking it was hers. When she went to see about the fine, she learned it belonged to someone else who owed more than $3,000.

The COVID-19 pandemic lulled some drivers into thinking there would be no repercussions for unpaid tickets due to enforcement staffing shortages and closure of Municipal Court. (Liz Fabian)

Lanier Parking Meters LLC, which manages parking for the authority, has been tracking the top 50 people who don’t pay tickets.

The current tab for those unpaid ticket holders is about $180,000, Morrison said at Thursday’s meeting.

The authority has been dealing with delinquent drivers since the meters were installed in July of 2018, but the pandemic and its staffing shortages exacerbated the issue.

People didn’t see as many enforcers on the street and the coronavirus closed the courts.

Authority member Ryan Griffin was perplexed about how to combat the perceived notion that there are no consequences.

“I’m also seeing some chatter on social media about there not being any fear of repercussion for not paying, and that tickets don’t mean anything and all that,” said Griffin who is part owner of several restaurants.

Morrison says it has been frustrating as the goal of the meters was to spare customers the aggravation of continually circling blocks when the majority of spaces used to be taken by those who work downtown.

“The people who are perpetuating the notion that there’s no enforcement or no teeth in the law are the downtown business owners themselves,” Morrison said. “It’s not across the board. There are good actors and bad actors. … It is very discouraging.”

The Urban Development Authority installed more than 600 parking meters in July of 2018 to better manage downtown growth. (Liz Fabian)

Parking management first tries to collect past due fines by sending letters. While some did make arrears to avoid court, others ignored the letters and probably thought they had gotten away with it.

Court is now back in session. On the first Monday in June, the latest round of scofflaws goes before the judge.

Under Macon’s current system, it costs $1.25 per hour to park for a maximum of three hours Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Those wishing to stay longer should use downtown’s parking garages, which are $1 per hour with a maximum $5 per day.

Drivers can use coins, credit cards or pay through the Passport Parking app on their cellphone.

Those failing to pay as they park or who let their time elapse will be fined $10. If the ticket is not paid within 20 days, the fee jumps to $30, according to the Macon-Bibb County Code of Ordinances.

The law also states that any offender with $100 in fees could have their vehicle immobilized.

The authority is banking on increased enforcement and fee collection now that Lanier has a new parking manager – its third in as many years.

Collecting the nearly $200,000 owed will help restore revenue shortfalls during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when many businesses were closed or had reduced capacity.

Once the authority pays off the $850,000 it cost to install about 600 meters, revenue will be used to improve downtown streetscapes and parking areas.

The resumption of court could be what it takes to make these scofflaws adhere to the parking restrictions. In the meantime, Morrison continues to look for ways to spread the message.

“We’ve tried to identify ways to tell businesses and let people know these are happening and these are real, government-backed tickets and they need to take it seriously.”

Contact Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian at 478-301-2976 or [email protected]