City: 443,000 parking tickets currently unpaid and past due

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PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) – Hundreds of thousands of parking tickets issued in Providence have gone unpaid for at least 30 days, shorting the cash-strapped capital city out of millions of dollars in potential revenue, WPRI.com has learned.

In all, 442,894 parking tickets in Providence were at least a month past due as of March 26, according to a WPRI.com review of data obtained through a public records request.

If the average amount owed on an outstanding ticket is $15 – possibly a conservative estimate, since some would face significant penalties for paying late – the tickets would be worth a combined $6.6 million.

“There are some who believe they are above the law, and every year a percentage of parking tickets issued by the city goes unpaid,” David Ortiz, a spokesman for Mayor Angel Taveras, told WPRI.com. “The city is working proactively and using the tools at our disposal to collect on all unpaid parking tickets.”

Records show the city issued 189,392 parking tickets in 2012, receiving $5.8 million in payments. That was down slightly from the $5.9 million the city recovered in 2011, when 193,219 tickets were issued.

Ortiz said the city has also taken to placing “electronic boots” on vehicles whose owners have more than five outstanding parking tickets.

The city raised the average parking meter ticket fine from $15 to $25 in 2007. The fine doubles after 14 days and triples after 28 days. Once a ticket hasn’t been paid for 30 days, the recipient is summoned to municipal court.

If the recipient doesn’t appear in court, the tickets are sold to a collection agency, according to Lindsay Lague, a spokeswoman for the Providence Police Department.

Council President Michael Solomon said the council began reviewing parking tickets in 2012 and found that “many tickets were over a year past due.” He said the council then authorized the administration to enter into an agreement with Public Finance Strategies LLC to securitize those deemed uncollectible. In exchange, the city received a $1 million payment as well as a percentage of future collections.

“Anytime a receivable is not collected, it’s concerning; however, we try to anticipate such realities in the budget process,” Solomon told WPRI.com. “Obviously the number of tickets past 30 days stands out, but the council recently passed a resolution allowing the administration to securitize old parking tickets.”

Councilman David Salvatore, who chairs the Council Ways and Means Committee, said he plans to invite ACS to an upcoming meeting to explain the services the company provides to the city. He said the council and the Taveras administration are committed to recovering as money from fines as they can.

“Due diligence is being done with regards to our fines and forfeitures,” Salvatore told WPRI.com. “The internal auditor’s office and I have worked together to develop realistic projections about where we’ll be at year’s end.”

Providence ended the 2011-12 fiscal year with a $15 million shortfall and internal auditor Matt Clarkin has projected that the city could end the current year with an $11.2 million in the red. The city has asked the General Assembly for additional state aid to help cover its shortfall.

Last week, Mayor Angel Taveras said his goal is to “hold the line” on residential property taxes in his proposed budget, though he stopped short of making any commitments to keep tax rates at the current level.

Councilman Michael Correia said he hopes the city will begin “immediate collection” on all unpaid parking tickets before a tax increase is considered.

“Right now we’re looking for every nickel and dime that we possibly we can,” Councilman Michael Correia told WPRI.com. “There are rumors of a tax increase and I wouldn’t want to put any burden on the taxpayers until every nickel and dime is recovered.”

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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