Parking ticket scofflaws might have a Brooklyn idol: City Councilmember Michael Nelson.
Nelson has introduced legislation that if passed, would initiate an amnesty program for those who have amassed penalties for unpaid parking violations.
The legislation, co-sponsored by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, would not erase the debt entirely, but rather, akin to a similar bill passed by the Council last year for Environmental Control Board violations, it would allow scofflaws to pay their ticket for the original amount on the ticket, forgiving the penalty fees and interest, which in some cases can be sizable.
Nelson defended the bill, which he said would help — not hinder — the city in fiscally constrained times. “It’s not like we are sending a message not to pay your tickets,” the lawmaker insisted.
According to Nelson, the bill would provide a temporary, 90-day program allowing drivers to resolve parking violations that are in default, and for which the default judgment was issued before Jan. 1, 2010.
Applicants can resolve their default violations by paying the base fine and will not have to pay additional penalties, late fees or interest. Nelson said the dates of the program will be determined by the Department of Finance, and will only be effective during Fiscal Year 2011, which spans from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011.
Nelson said that to date, there are approximately $700 million in overdue parking fines, dating as far back as 2001. After the first 100 days and the accumulation of three late fees, interest begins to accrue at a rate of nine percent per year.
And when fees accumulate, suddenly “it becomes monopoly money,” the lawmaker said. Soon, recipients are resolved to never paying their tickets. “But if we receive, let’s say 20 percent of the money, that will be $140 million. I think that will be extremely successful,” he said.
In a statement, Nelson pointed to similar amnesty programs implemented in cities like Chicago, where it has proven successful in the collection of millions of dollars in paid parking fines. Last month, Savannah, GA re-implemented a month-long parking penalty amnesty program since its past amnesty programs proved very popular and successful, Nelson said in a statement.
Nelson spokesperson Steve Zeltser said the bill is “absolutely no different” than the Environmental Control Board bill. Environmental Control Board violations are handed out by a range of city agencies, including the Department of Buildings and Sanitation Department. “Same concept, just different kinds of tickets,” he said.
The bill has been referred to the Council’s Committee on Finance for further review, and could take about two months to become law.
Nelson admitted to receiving a $125 parking ticket in the past — on a car with City Council license plates no less. “It was Sheila’s,” he said, referring to his late wife. “She was parked one inch into a crosswalk— it was really unfair.” But the lawmaker said he did ultimately pay the ticket, on time.