published Monday, May 12th, 2014

Memphis explores expansion of fees, fines

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Officials in Memphis are considering the use of new and higher fees to help the city generate funding.

The Commercial Appeal reports a few months ago, drivers might have found broken parking meters downtown, but not anymore. Now, they find new electronic meters and an aggressive policy to collect — a parking ticket that isn't quickly paid could end up costing $246.

The move is part of a change in how the city plans to bring in funding to pay for pensions and other obligations. Another possible method, raising property taxes, is sensitive politically and could prove problematic given the number of vacant properties.

Consultants recommended earlier this year that officials explore new ways to make money, including through new and expanded fees and fines.

Chief City Prosecutor Teresa Jones said people could previously get away with not paying parking tickets.

"They kind of dropped off the radar," she said. "And of course if you owe $21, how cost-effective is it to hire someone to sue you for $21?"

Besides, so many didn't work that people could argue in court that they did pay, she said.

The new meters create transactions that allow the city to show whether someone paid to park, and if they don't pay, additional costs add up quickly.

In addition to aggressive parking enforcement, the city is looking at other types of fines and fees, such as using more cameras to catch traffic violations and adding new trash fees such as a "pay-as-you-throw" system in which residents are charged based on how much waste they throw out.

Chief administrative officer George Little says Memphis likely will hire someone to look for new sources of money and collect outstanding debts after the new fiscal year begins on July 1.

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