published Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Citation collections under amnesty so far: 'Disappointment'


by Cliff Hightower
Audio clip

Peter Murphy

The city's amnesty program on outstanding fines has netted a total of $3,676.80 toward the $11.7 million in fines owed to the city, records show.

The city of Chattanooga began the program April 19, marking 25 percent off the outstanding fees in an attempt to collect almost $12 million in fees ranging from parking citations to code enforcement violations and traffic fines.

So far, only 52 of the 86,000 citations owed have seen any payments whatsoever, city records show.

  • photo
    Staff Photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press Parking meters line Broad Street Wednesday afternoon.

City Council Chairman Manny Rico said Wednesday that the city needs to figure out another way to get the money. He said the amnesty program is clearly "not working."

"Either people don't know about it or don't care," he said.

Councilman Peter Murphy, who has taken the lead on the city's collection of outstanding fees, said he thinks "it's unfortunate that more people aren't taking advantage of it."

The amnesty period runs to May 28.

A statute of limitations states the city can collect on those fees within the last 10 years. A review of the 52 citations paid on so far shows one person paid $22.50 on a $30 ticket from 1984.

"Perhaps they are viewing it as a moral obligation," Mr. Murphy said.

Once the amnesty program is complete, officials said, the city will begin other steps to ensure collection of the overdue fines. City officials said they are authorizing AllianceOne, the city's collection agency, to pursue litigation against debtors.

Daisy Madison, the city's chief financial officer, said Wednesday that AllianceOne in the past did not have the authority to pursue debtors in court. It also is a national company, so it can go after those who do not live in Tennessee, she said.

A 25 percent reduction in the fine is not a very large incentive, she said, so that could be a reason people are not paying. Another reason is that debtors might not realize that stronger steps could come in the future, she said.

"It is a disappointment," Ms. Madison said. "We hoped more people would take advantage of it."

Along with pursuing debtors in court, once the amnesty period ends the city will use traffic boots on violator's cars, officials said.

HOW TO PAY

Anyone with an outstanding balance may visit the City Court Clerk's office at 600 Market St., Room 104, or call 643-7000 for more information. Payments may be made online at www.chattanooga.gov/amnesty.

Mr. Murphy said the City Council could relax some of the city's laws in the future to allow faster and easier booting. He said the city also is considering using more advanced booting systems in which the traffic locks put on wheels automatically would unlock once the fine is paid.

Councilman Jack Benson said the money collected up to now won't go far toward helping the city's budget.

"It's not working at the present time at helping our financial needs," he said.

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Money left on the table

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xyzyra said...

Be honest, how many people are going to even remember they got a parking ticket 10 years ago? Are people being notified by mail as reminders they might owe a parking ticket? If not, then there's the problem.

Then what about the last time Chattanooga tried this very same thing over a decade or so ago? Even went so far as to go out and boot people cars, only to find out many had paid their tickets, but some clerk in the clerk's office failed to properly credit the fact. The collection efforts had to be scrapped pronto for fear of the city possibly facing a Class Action, if my recollections are correct.

May 6, 2010 at 9:28 a.m.
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