Towns eye parking ticket fee hikes
Parking is a constant problem in some Vineyard towns, especially during the summer tourist season. Many Vineyard visitors, and possibly some year-round residents, look at the $10 overtime parking ticket as a reasonable cost to park for the day in any of the Island towns.
"The general consensus is people say it's a bargain at $10 and $15," Carol Grant, parking clerk for Dukes County, who collects the ticket payments for all the towns, told the Edgartown selectmen Monday. "In seasonal and touristy areas, people will pay $10."
The Island's modest parking fees could change substantially, however, if selectmen in any of the towns decide to increase the fees, based on more recent maximum amounts provided in the Massachusetts general law. The law now allows up to $50 for a basic overtime parking ticket. Ms. Grant said increasing the fees could serve as a deterrent to habitual offenders, especially in downtown Tisbury, where some people park all day when they go off-Island, or in Edgartown where employees park in town rather than use the park and ride lot.
Ms. Grant presented similar parking fee information to Tisbury selectmen Tuesday. The Edgartown selectmen did not discuss the fees and put the issue under advisement for later consideration.
Tisbury selectmen agreed the fees should be raised, but differed on how much. They will discuss the issue more at their Sept. 4 meeting, and then schedule a public hearing, possibly for Sept. 18.
Nantucket has followed the state's lead, increasing its maximum parking ticket fee to $50, and Barnstable upped its basic tickets to $25 and $50, Ms. Grant told the selectmen. She also said the consensus of the Vineyard police chiefs at a meeting last year was to increase the fees.
She presented to the selectmen in both towns charts, which showed the number of tickets issued from April through July, and the revenue from the current rates, and how much would be received if the rates increased by increments of $5 up to $50. The Island's parking ticket rates are the same in all the towns. She suggested the Edgartown selectmen look over the list and indicate if they thought the fees should increase in any of the categories.
Ms. Grant said she plans to present the same information to all the towns. She emphasized that she was providing information only about the fees, not making any recommendations. The selectmen in each town set the parking fees.
Noreen Mavro Flanders, county treasurer and interim county manager, explained that the state revises the maximum parking fee rates based on inflation, and said, "The towns have to be reminded now and then," of those changes. The information is being provided now to give the selectmen time to think about possible changes before the tickets are printed for next spring, she said.
The county gets 15 percent of the revenue from the tickets and the rest goes to the towns, except for some fees that towns pay to the state registry, she said. The county's parking revenue for fiscal year 2007 was $45,000 and is expected to drop to $37,500 this year, according to the county budget.
The county parking clerk expenses, projected at $37,384 in the current fiscal year, cover Ms. Grant's salary, she said. She also is an employee of each town. Revenue is based on the amount of fees that are collected, not tickets issued, she said.
The two lowest fees, $10 for overtime parking and $15 for parking in restricted areas, could both be increased up to $50 under the state law, Ms. Grant said. The handicapped parking fee is currently $100 by state mandate, and could be raised to $200 or $300, she said. The $50 beach parking fee could remain the same, she said at the Edgartown meeting.
At the Tisbury selectmen's meeting, selectman Denys Wortman suggested for purposes of discussion, the board should raise the fines to $50 for most infractions. Selectman Tristan Israel said that although revenue is a factor, deterrence is the driving factor for increasing the fees.
When the selectmen suggested a public hearing on the matter, finance and advisory committee member Larry Gomez asked, "What is the purpose of a public hearing? Everyone will just say they don't want an increase. Just move it up to $50 and be done with it." Mr. Wortman answered that by letting the public know that the selectmen were considering raising the fines, more people would attend the hearing and voice their opinions.
Edgartown selectmen Arthur Smadbeck said Tuesday he doesn't know what his board will do, but it will probably address the issue in the fall. Changing the amount of fees is "going to take some thought," he said. "Each town has an individual character. We would want to address the face we present to the public."
Mr. Smadbeck said he expects the selectmen would want to have a hearing with business owners and residents before making any changes to the fees.
Two of the police chiefs also expressed their views on the parking issue. Tisbury police chief John Cashin said he recalled the joint chiefs meeting almost a year ago when they discussed the parking rates and favored an increase. He said he abstained on the vote because he was new in his position.
"It's entirely up to the town, depending on what they are trying to accomplish," Chief Cashin said. If the towns increased the hourly parking fines, it would "make them more realistic in terms of impact." Another way to increase those fees would be to make the tickets accrue hourly, he said.
Although people are still parking in illegal zones, Mr. Cashin said parking ticket numbers might be down in Tisbury this year, mostly because he has fewer traffic officers. "I'm getting the feeling," he said, "that next year we'll need to raise the tickets."
Chilmark police chief Timothy Rich said he would look at a parking fee increase "within reason," but said he is not convinced even a $50 ticket would deter people from parking in Menemsha to view a beautiful sunset.
However, Chief Rich said that fewer tickets have been issued in Menemsha this season because of so many "perfect beach days" that has spread out the visitors. He said it also helps that more people are using the VTA buses, which make stops every 20 minutes in Menemsha.
The number of parking tickets issued, and thus the revenue from them, varies greatly by town. Ms. Grant provided this year's figures to Edgartown and Tisbury selectmen. In Edgartown where police rarely issue tickets in the off-season, they issued one $15 ticket for restricted parking in April, 11 in May, 72 in June and 172 in July. In the overtime category, which Edgartown doesn't start ticketing for until June, police issued 398 tickets in June and 544 in July, Ms. Grant reported.
By contrast in Tisbury, where parking is even more of an issue because of the Steamship Authority terminal, in the $10 overtime category police issued 192 tickets in April, 435 in May, 592 in June, and 583 in July. The number of $15 restricted parking tickets issued in Tisbury was 14 in April, 57 in May, 64 in June, and 302 in July.
Ms. Grant provided each town a chart that showed the revenue amounts if the rates were increased by $5 increments up to $50. For example, Tisbury's revenue from the 583 overtime parking tickets issued in July would be $5,830. If the fee were increased to $50, the revenue would be $29,150.
Statistics Ms. Grant compiled for the Times last fall for January through August 2006 listed a total of 12,287 parking tickets issued for that period, totaling $161,030 in penalties. One third of those tickets were issued in August. Tisbury is the only town that consistently issues parking tickets year-round.
Tisbury led the other five towns in number of parking tickets through July 2006, but Oak Bluffs led in August.
Total tickets issued by the six towns from January through August 2006 were as follows: Tisbury, 5,491; Oak Bluffs, 3,711; Edgartown, 2,602; Chilmark 336; Aquinnah, 74; and West Tisbury, 73. The absence of bustling downtown communities in the three up-Island towns accounts for fewer violations.
Revenue in the highest ticketing towns for that eight-month period was Tisbury, $71,450, Oak Bluffs, $49,165, and Edgartown, $23,960.
Complete parking fee statistics for the past fiscal year were not available from the county clerk.