City officials ponder booting vehicles that have racked up excessive unpaid parking tickets

BUCKHANNON – City officials are researching a new ordinance that would potentially allow Buckhannon to boot vehicles that have racked up an excessive number of unpaid parking tickets.

Municipal Judge Helen Echard attended the Aug. 25 Consolidated Public Works Board meeting to ask Consolidated board members to consider implementing a new ordinance that would give her the authority to issue more severe repercussions to people who chronically fail to pay outstanding parking tickets.

“We are currently having a problem with one particular person since April who has 10 parking tickets and maybe more,” Echard said. “The amount of the fines is over $1,100 and she will not come into the office.”

The city’s parking ordinance was most recently updated in December 2020 to specify that violators are entitled to two warnings per calendar year prior to receiving a ticket, and everyone’s slate is wiped clean January 1 of each year. Fines range from $25 for the first violation to $100 for the third or subsequent violation.

Echard said she needs to be given the authority to issue a warrant for failure to appear and the city needs to develop an official protocol to handle those types of situations. She said a process is in place in Clarksburg and Fairmont.

“I’ve done some phone calls and Clarksburg has a boot ordinance and it says if [a person has] 10 or more unpaid citations with a total that exceeds $200, [a boot is placed on the vehicle],” Echard said. “I’m not suggesting we do that amount or anything. I also checked with Fairmont, and they issue a statement and if they don’t appear on the statement, then they issue a summons and if you don’t appear on that summons, they take you to jail for failure to appear. I don’t think we want to get to the point where we’re taking people to jail for parking citations unless it gets very extreme.”

Mayor Robbie Skinner said he would be more open to booting vehicles as opposed to towing.

“I agree with the boot method; I think it’s better than getting us involved in towing,” Skinner said. “It’s far less of a liability on us and it will get the person’s attention if the car cannot be moved. We would not be looking to put a boot on a vehicle for one parking ticket; this would be for an excessive situation where we would have the latitude to say [there would be consequences] with a certain number of tickets or someone hits a fine ceiling – whichever comes first.”

Echard said within the last year, 18 summons have been mailed to people, but they have not appeared in municipal court.

“Some of the tickets are $200 apiece for the handicapped spaces and parking in the two-hour [spaces], and it can be up to $100 for each offense, so it doesn’t take long for that price to really add up,” Echard said. “I don’t want to give any names, but one has been parked all weekend on several different weekends in a handicapped spot and I do know the magistrate court has warrants for her arrest for failure to appear on citations she’s been issued through them, and I also had the city police run her operator’s [license] and this is a habitual thing with her.”

Skinner said he believed these extreme situations were not the norm, but they do need to be addressed.

“Most people police themselves and most people, once they get a warning, they won’t do that again because I want to make sure we have the warning system in place,” Skinner said. “You do not get a parking ticket the first time you park somewhere you’re not supposed to; it is a warning. Clearly, this has gone well beyond a warning, well beyond the normal ticket, and it’s getting a bit excessive.”

Board member Pam Bucklew said it’s not fair that some people pay their parking citations while others ignore fines.

“I would entertain a motion that we direct (city attorney) Tom O’Neill to work with Helen to draft an ordinance that would address us putting a boot on for excessive parking violations and strengthening our authority with a summons and giving additional latitude to our municipal court judge,” Skinner said.

Board member Nancy Shobe made that motion, which was seconded by board member Jack Reger.

The motion passed unanimously.

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