Only 17 percent of the money owed to the City of Chattanooga for parking citations may be recoverable after several variables are factored in, a review of city records shows.
"They are going to have to determine if they can locate these people," said Daisy Madison, the city's chief financial officer. "They are going to have to determine if these people have enough assets to make it palatable to go after them in court."
A review of city records by the Chattanooga Times Free Press last week showed that over the last several years the city is owed more than $7.1 million in outstanding fees from more than 84,000 outstanding citations. The city attorney's office said the statute of limitations possibly could go back only 10 years, which means the city could collect $4.9 million.
But other variables also factor into how much the city could recover, records show. Several of the records have no name attached, which brings the amount down to $4.5 million, records show. The city recently filed suit against those who owe outstanding water quality fees.
In those cases, the city chose to pursue those who owe $1,000 or more because of the potential court costs and attorney fees involved in the lawsuits.
If the city decides to pursue only those who owe more than $1,000, that would mean $1.2 million of the original $7.2 million could be collected, records show.
Ms. Madison said Alliance One, a collection agency, is handling the outstanding fees for water quality and parking citations. The city is in the process of ironing out what the threshold would be for going after these outstanding fines and allowing the company to pursue debtors in court, she said.
But she said it should be similar on how the city went after water quality fees.
"I would imagine they would have a similar threshold," she said.
Councilman Peter Murphy, chairman of the council's Legal and Legislative Committee, said he thought it should be lower than $1,000. The bottom line, though, is the city will start taking steps in the near future to collect its debt, he said.
"Anyone who owes the city needs to pay it," Mr. Murphy said.
Questions still surround about 20,000 of the 84,000 total city records that have no name attached to them whatsoever. That means one out of every four outstanding citations does not even have a name on it, records show.
City officials said that is because those names could not be matched in a state database due to human or computer errors.
Councilman Manny Rico said Tuesday someone needs to find out exactly where the problem lies.
CITY PARKING FEES
The city of Chattanooga has millions of dollars owed to it from outstanding parking fines over the years, but several million of that is uncollectible, records show.
* Overall outstanding parking fines: $7.1 million
* Total outstanding since 2000: $4.9 million
* Total city can collect, less those with no names: $4.5 million
* Total city can collect from those who owe more than $1,000: $1.2 million
Source: Chattanooga parking citations database
"Somebody's got to figure out a better way of doing what we're doing," he said. "It's broke, and it needs (to be) fixed."
Councilwoman Carol Berz raised concerns last week of ticket fixing, or "helping friends," but also said that couldn't be the case with these missing records. There are just too many incomplete records, she said.
"It's just too big," she said.
Richard Beeland, spokesman for Mayor Ron Littlefield, said Tuesday there was not any ticket fixing going on whatsoever. Mr. Beeland said the city has a history of dealing with employees who do such a thing.
"Their job would be in jeopardy," he said.
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