City attorney Tom O'Neill presents a revised draft of Ordinance 447 at council's meeting Nov. 5.

Parking ordinance with graduated fines passes council on first reading

BUCKHANNON – The City of Buckhannon’s revised downtown parking ordinance may have passed its first reading last week, but questions still linger about the most effective way to enforce it.

Buckhannon City Council on Thursday approved Ordinance 447 by a vote of 6-1 with councilman David Thomas voting against the measure. The new ordinance, which originated from a series of discussions at Consolidated Public Works Board meetings over the summer, seeks to simplify a handful of disparate parking ordinances and discourage chronic violators from ignoring the city’s two-hour free parking policy while also remaining friendly to visitors from out of town.

In fact, the changes to the ordinance primarily deal with enforcement and not the city’s parking regulations themselves.

At council’s Nov. 5 meeting, city attorney Tom O’Neill said the following changes had been made since council’s Oct. 15 meeting when he presented a second draft of the ordinance:

Each calendar year on Jan. 1, slates of any violators will be ‘wiped clean,’ meaning offenses and warnings from the prior calendar year will be erased.

Each calendar year, each violator will be entitled to receive two warnings prior to a citation being issued; however, no person can receive more than one warning per 24-hour period.

Escalating fines of $25 for a first offense, $50 for a second offense and $100 for a third or subsequent offense would be instituted, meaning every person would be entitled to five violations – two warnings and a first, second and third offense – before a $100 ticket would be issued on the third offense. (Now, $25 is the penalty fine issued across the board.)

Vehicles will no longer be permitted to move across the street or up one or two spaces to ‘reset’ their two-hour free parking period. In order to effectively reset the time, vehicles must move to an entirely different street.

Despite discussions about purchasing some kind of technological apparatus that would enable the parking enforcement officer to better keep track of offenses and fines, city council members said they didn’t want to expend money on that, as such software could cost upwards of $15,000.

“I think we are all in agreement that we don’t want to spend one more penny on an apparatus that’s going to enforce our parking in our downtown,” mayor Robbie Skinner said. “This is a three-block downtown and with increased patrol by our parking enforcement officer, we should be able to keep this maintained and keep this enforced the right way for this ordinance to work.”

O’Neill said the January 1 reset would simplify the issuance of parking penalties.

Councilman CJ Rylands suggested paying part-time employees to aid in enforcing the ordinance randomly and effectively.

“I think we need to enforce the policy randomly for the entire time that it’s in effect,” Rylands said, “but I don’t want to spend any more money doing it. I think there may be an opportunity to utilize some part-time people.”

Skinner said he thinks the majority of problems occur Tuesday through Friday between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Rylands agreed that although he had no problems with the ordinance itself, perhaps enforcement procedures merited further discussion.

Councilman Jack Reger said he wanted to ensure the ordinance was “done right” so council would not have to return to the drawing board again.

“The only thing I ask with the ordinance is that we do it right, and it has to be manageable,” he said. “I just want it done right so we don’t have to come back again to reinvent the wheel – that’s my concern.”

Reger said he would vote for the ordinance but thought having one fine instead of a graduated system of fines would simplify enforcement.

Skinner disagreed, saying the reason council revised current parking ordinances was so chronic violators would feel a deeper ‘sting’ with a $50 or $100 fine as opposed to a simple $25 one.

Mayor Robbie Skinner

“I want to take us back to the reason we’ve spent so many council meetings on this – we are not trying to be arbitrary and to be overarching on a visitor,” the mayor said. “We are trying to make this easy and be friendly to a visitor or someone who just may not know what our rules are.”

“The whole point of this is to clean up the chronic violators downtown that are taking the spaces away from potential shoppers and our stores,” Skinner added. “That’s what the point of this is, so I really believe it’s going to take more than a $25 fine to get these chronic violators off the street.”

Rylands made a motion to approve the ordinance, which was seconded by councilwoman Mary Albaugh prior to the vote of 6-1, with Thomas dissenting.

Skinner said council could discuss the ordinance again – and possibly enforcement procedures – on its second reading at council’s Nov. 19 meeting.

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