KOLD INVESTIGATES: Parking perpetrators yield shocking unpaid am - Tucson News Now

KOLD INVESTIGATES: Parking perpetrators yield shocking unpaid amount

(Source: Tucson News Now) (Source: Tucson News Now)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

It is a law just like any other: You must pay to park.

But the cost of parking violations has climbed to a shocking amount for the top 13 parking perps in Tucson.

Through a records request, Tucson News Now has learned those individuals owe the city a combined $204,906.40 in parking fines. Check out the list HERE or read the entire report HERE.

Tucson City Court Administrator Christopher Hale was surprised the total was that high.

"I'm surprised anybody would have three or more unpaid parking tickets, to be honest with you," Hale said. "Most of the people I know would get a parking ticket and they would take care of it. They would either contest it, or pay it. That's about all you can do with a parking ticket. But they wouldn't accumulate 300 parking tickets. The people I know wouldn't do that."

One ticket is enough for a name to reach his desk. Hale said when someone receives a parking citation, they have 30 days to pay Park Tucson.

If the person fails to resolve the outstanding debt, the case is transferred to the city court system. The individual goes into default, and that means added fees for delinquency.

"It's pretty easy to do the math if you look up one of the fines and then start adding things to it. It accumulates very rapidly," he said.

Hale said the most expensive parking ticket, in the city of Tucson, is for parking in a handicap spot. According to the city codes (Sec. 20-221. Penalty.) the fine for parking in a marked handicap spot wields a mandatory fine of $211.48. That does not include penalties for late payments.

Tucson City Court Administrator Christopher Hale. (Source: Tucson News Now)

TUCSON'S TOP VIOLATORS

Tracking down the top 13 violators of unpaid parking citations has been quite difficult for the city courts.

"It's a small segment of folks who, at least in my opinion, have no regard for the law," Hale said.

The public records request for the top 13 parking violation offenders with the city courts system revealed the names, registered addresses of the vehicle, number of violations, and the cost, among other items.

From 2011 to 2016, one individual racked up 388 unpaid parking citations. The total cost, $52,430.

The lowest amount owned is $6,028 from 62 unpaid parking citations.

Included in the list are two rental car businesses -- Tucson Auto and Hertz -- whose unidentified customers have racked up multiple citations.

In an attempt to contact Hertz officials at the Tucson International Airport, we were directed to the corporate legal team, who explained the process of fee collection if one of its renters receives a citation.

"In the city of Tucson, if a renter fails to pay a parking citation within the allotted time, a secondary notice goes out to the registrant of the vehicle (i.e. the car rental company)," Hertz Corporation Communications Manager Lauren Luster said in an email. "The notice should be sent to the address where the vehicle is registered, which is often not the same location as where the vehicle is rented from, as rental companies manage a large fleet of vehicles that is constantly moving from place to place."

In the records obtained by Tucson News Now, Hertz has multiple listings for registered vehicles that received parking citations in Tucson. That includes vehicles registered to rental offices in Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tucson, as well as one citation for a Hertz vehicle registered in Glendale Heights, Illinois. Citations on the vehicles registered to the Tucson rental offices are from 2003 to 2008.

"If we receive a parking violation for one of our vehicles (no matter where the violation originated), our protocol is to send it to our third-party vendor for processing and payment of citations, consistent with applicable state law(s)/regulation(s)," Luster said.

At the time, she could not explain why these specific violations remain unpaid.

"We are currently investigating these particular outstanding violations and will follow up with more details as soon as we have them," she said via email correspondence.

Attempts by Tucson News Now to track down individuals listed on the public record were unsuccessful. Several of the addresses listed are no longer accurate.




Hale said the court receives a large stack of return mail each day due to inaccurate address listings. He said he is at the mercy of the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division, and they find that people don't update their registered addresses when they move.

He said many perpetrators run from their responsibilities when the cost gets too high.

"I think the amount becomes so overwhelming that they don't know how to address it," Hale said. "And I will say that if you are out there, come to the Tucson City Court and we will set you up on a very reasonable payment schedule. And you can make monthly payments until your debt to this court is paid off."

Hale did not mention the name of the individual, but said they were able to set up one of the top 13 violators on a payment plan. No ensuing payments were made.

"We do our best with the tools we have to collect," he said. "Could we use help in getting more tools? Yes, we could."

COLLECTING THE COST

Hale said several tools are in place if individuals fail to make good on their citations and others coming soon will make sure new violators can't skirt the system so easily.

The city of Tucson has the Fines/Fees and Restitution (FARE) program. According to the city's website, the program assists the Arizona courts with the "collection of fines assessed on civil traffic, criminal traffic, and criminal cases."

Hale explained that the FARE program can intercept a violator's income tax return if they fail to pay their citation. By Hale's estimation, the program collects $1-1.5 million annually with a success rate from 33 to 50 percent. Citations being processed by the FARE program also include added delinquency fees.

"The tax intercept is one tool they have, and that's about the only tool they have," Hale said. "If an individual doesn't get a state income tax return, there's nothing for us to intercept."

He believes there can be a legislative fix, and it's something he hopes will be implemented.

For example, if the court case involves a criminal or civil traffic violation, the individual's driving privileges are suspended.

That person could also be assigned to the Traffic Ticket Enforcement Assistance Program through the Arizona MVD. Assignment to TTEAP will prevent people from registering their vehicle until the outstanding fines are paid.

Driver license suspension and TTEAP are not an option for civil parking violations in Tucson and that would have to be changed by local lawmakers.

Park Tucson is working to implement a boot program that would render vehicles inoperable if the registered owner receives three or more tickets. Hale said the government agency has already put to use new enforcement vehicles and systems that scan car license plates as they drive by.

Hale said drivers who have a parking boot placed on their vehicle will have to come to court and post bond. He believes it can be problematic for car renters and will likely drive rental car companies, like Tucson Auto and Hertz, to take action.

"The last thing you want to do is rent a car to someone and have them come out from a nice dinner, or on their way to a meeting, and find a boot on their car," Hale said. "Once that program is up and running, I think that will be very effective."

He expects the boot program to be fully operational by July 1, 2017.

Hale said while the city has had successful experiences with the program there are times when a car is booted, ticketed, or impounded, and the money owed by the individual greatly exceeds the value of the car.

He explained that in those cases, the car is left in the impound lot because it wasn’t worth it to the owner to get the vehicle out.

GOOD CHUNK OF CHANGE

The amount of money successfully collected from parking violations can bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars for the city of Tucson each year.

According to statistics from the Tucson City Court, the city collected $775,751 during the 2014 fiscal year, and $767,578 during the 2015 fiscal year.

Hale said the money collected goes into the city's general fund. A processing fee is also placed on the payment, which is divided up between the state of Arizona, the city of Tucson, and the city court system.

The thought of lost income from Tucson's top parking perpetrators irked individuals who talked to Tucson News Now.

"You're losing revenue for the city and that's what you're trying to accomplish. So yeah, those people have to be hounded," said Matt Michalik, who was visiting the city for University of Arizona graduation.

"[They are] scofflaws," said John Spinelli, who lives downtown. "Because they don't think they're important, or don't think they have to pay them, or think they can park anywhere."

HOW MANY IS TOO MANY?

The consensus from people on the street, speaking with Tucson News Now, is that one parking violation is too many.

"If I get a parking ticket I know I'm going to pay it. That's what the rules are," said Carlyn Harrison, who lives in Tucson. "I can't imagine having that many parking tickets and not doing anything about it."

"I don't want [one] parking ticket," Michalik said. "We try to take the steps to avoid it. I'm checking the meters right now to see how much time is left in there. Just a little extra time; a little extra caution."

Hale said he has heard every excuse in the book from people who allege they aren't aware of the violation.

"They (say) weren't properly notified - that was a big one," he said. "When somebody says that they didn't get the parking ticket, I always ask them, 'do you have children?'' If they say yes I would tell them 'you need to talk to your children.' Often times child that is 16 or 17 would borrow the car, go to a University of Arizona basketball game or something, get a parking ticket, and not tell their parents."

But those excuses don't hold up, especially in an automated system that tracks every citation and gives warning to the violators.

When asked about the priority for parking ticket prosecution in his city court system, Hale said they "fall close to the bottom" of civil ordinance violations. He said they are important, but obviously don't take priority over criminal cases.

Tracking down these offenders can be frustrating for Hale. With limited knowledge of their whereabouts, and currently limited tools at his disposal, the money lost may never be recouped.

"They just simply don't care, and they don't take care of their obligation. That's not just an obligation to the court, but it's to the city of Tucson and the citizens of the city of Tucson," Hale said. "They violated the law, they were found responsible, they were imposed the sanction, and they should do the right thing and take care of it."

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