March 22, 2013

Amnesty? Shamnesty!

The Syracuse Common Council, long referred to as "Syracuse's greatest deliberative body" by the late Post-Standard columnist Bob Haggart, could have voted this week on whether to hire a company to boot the cars of parking scofflaws. But they didn't.

Some history: Syracuse started booting cars back in 2008; to receive the yellow boot, a person has to have three delinquent parking tickets, each at least 90 days old.  In 2008, there were 12,819 boot-eligible vehicles, owing $4,800,000; by 2012, there were 19,457 vehicles owing $7,900,000, according to a published report.

Here's a story from July of 2008, touting the benefits of the new booting program:
Since Syracuse's booting law took effect Jan. 1, the city has taken in $2,186,000 in parking tickets, surcharges and late fees, said Richard Scheutzow, director of the city's Parking Violations Bureau. The city is on track to top $4 million this year, more than twice the amount collected in any year during the past decade...  The bulk of the revenue comes from people paying their tickets voluntarily or through a collection agency, Scheutzow said... It's clear that fear of the boot is driving scofflaws to haul themselves in to the parking bureau before they are caught, Scheutzow said. The increase in parking payments started in October, when the impending booting law was announced, and it has held steady since then. Scheutzow and city police agree that the booting effort has increased compliance with parking laws and payment of parking tickets. "It's working out fantastic," said police Lt. Joe Sweeny, who oversees the booting program.
Since 2008, revenues from the booting program have fallen significantly. Part of  that was because having police officers cruising parking lots looking for boot-able cars was not an effective use of their time; it became even a less effective use of taxpayer dollars when the Police Department starting having officers handle the scofflaw cruises primarily on overtime. Mayor Stephanie Miner ended the overtime booting in 2011.

So now Pay Lock, the company that has provided the boots from the beginning, wants to take over the whole program, including the scofflaw cruises, for 28% of the take. They'd have people on the streets seven hours a day, five days a week, and the city would not be on the hook for salaries and benefits. And, with the increased effort, the city would see an additional $630,000 more than is being collected today.  Seems hard not to like this idea, doesn't it?

But then, there must be delieration, because it is the Common Council after all.  Deliberation including discussion on whether we need to have an amnesty period before changing the program. 1st District Councilor Jake Barrett offered this:
Maybe there's a fairness issue. We're changing the system. Let's give them a chance to pay.
Um, the people who need to get the boot have ignored at least three parking tickets for at least 90 days each.  They've been notified. They owe the city almost $8,000,000. The city is in dire financial straits.  Do we really need to consider an amnesty program because we're "changing the system" and being more aggressive in collecting the millions of dollars that these folks owe? 

And on the subject of amnesty, let's go back again to July 2008; here's one last comment from the article on the booting program.
Scheutzow  said that, given the success of the program, the city will never again need to offer a parking amnesty program to violators. The last amnesty in 2003 forgave late fees and penalties and brought in more than $1 million.
We don't need to, and cannot afford to, forgive a few million bucks to be kind to scofflaws.  What we do need to do is get back to the aggressive enforcement and revenue collection. 

Here's hoping the Common Council votes to approve the contract with Pay Lock at the earliest opportunity, April Fool's Day, and that Pay Lock gets to work as soon as possible.

Fools they would be if they do otherwise.

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