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Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011 03:36 pm

Parking war

Proposed parking fine increase causes clash in city council

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Parking in Springfield is cheap. Visitors from Chicago sometimes joke that it’s cheaper to get a parking ticket here than to simply pay the meter in their city. But that could change with a proposed ordinance under consideration by the city council.

On Jan. 25, the council considered a measure to double Springfield’s fine for overtime parking, and although the proposal was tabled for more discussion, proponents say they will continue to push for its passage. The three aldermen who jointly introduced the proposal say the city needs to look at ways to increase revenue during a time of budget trouble, but opponents on the council blasted the idea as harmful to downtown businesses.

The current fine for an expired parking meter in Springfield is $5 if paid within 14 days and $10 if paid after that. The proposal would increase the initial fine to $10 and the late payment fine to $20. It would not raise the cost of paying a parking meter.

One concern among opponents of the proposal is that the possibility of an increased fine could deter consumers from visiting downtown. Ward 6 Ald. Mark Mahoney says a scarcity of downtown parking spots already prompts complaints from his constituents.

“My concern with this is we’re talking about the problems downtown businesses are having, and we’re sending a message here,” Mahoney says. “We’ve taken parking away on Capitol [Avenue], … We bag meters from time to time, and I know it is necessary, but I get complaints from businesses and people saying the meters are bagged, in their opinion, longer than they have to be. I just think it’s the wrong message to send.”

But proponents say it would actually encourage more customer turnover.

“I don’t see it as a hindrance because I would think downtown businesses would want to recycle their customers,” says Ward 7 Ald. Debbie Cimarossa, adding that it may be helpful to change time limits on certain meters to better suit businesses. “If it’s a 30-minute meter, maybe it needs to be changed to an hour. …We want to work with downtown businesses, but we want to make sure we take care of appropriate penalties for people who choose to park there all day and hurt businesses.”

Ward 3 Ald. Frank Kunz, who is running for mayor, decried the proposal as a tax increase when he says the city should be making cuts instead.

“It’s still the government taking the money,” Kunz said. “It’s still a tax. It’s a 100 percent increase no matter how you cut it. … I think here we are, instead of cutting the budget, we’re trying to raise revenue.”

According to the office of city treasurer Jim Langfelder, the city is currently owed $283,344 in fines for expired parking meters and the majority – 72 percent – of parking fines issued by the city are for overtime violations. About 46 percent of all parking fines are paid within the first 14 days, Langfelder’s office says, and the city issued 41,757 tickets in 2010. The same number of tickets issued in 2010 would have generated an extra $150,000 with the higher fines, the treasurer estimates.

Currently, the city is owed for 46,113 unpaid parking fines, though that number includes violations other than overtime parking.

Among similar-sized cities in central Illinois, Springfield’s overtime parking fine is relatively low. In Peoria, parking too long costs $15 if paid within seven days, $20 if paid within eight to 30 days, and $30 after 30 days. Decatur charges $10. Urbana charges $10 for the first offense in the city’s campus and hospital districts, then $15 for the second offense and $20 for the third. In Urbana’s downtown district, the first violation is a free warning, but the second and third violations cost $10 and $15, respectively. It’s $10 in Champaign within seven days and $15 after that. Bloomington and Normal don’t have parking meters.

Cimarossa says she and Ward 1 Ald. Tom Shanahan support the measure and will find a third alderman to jointly sponsor it. Former Ward 9 Ald. Steve Dove originally introduced the proposal, but has now moved on to be an aide to Mayor Frank Edwards.

“We need to look at the cost of doing business,” Cimarossa says. “The administrative office that does hearings, the staff that processes all that – everything has gone up, but the fines haven’t gone up. That’s where we’re trying to do this balancing act.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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