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Quick and Dirty

Big Ticket

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 2/22/2006

Parking ticket late fees: State Sen. George Della (D-Baltimore City), says they’re “one of these little irritating things in life,” and if you’re among the one third of Baltimore residents or visitors who forgets to pay your parking fine within 30 days, you probably agree. So Sen. Della has introduced a bill that would cap the “late fee” Baltimore City charges on parking tickets to just $25. Currently, there is no cap at all.

“The city’s policy is $16 per month for every month or portion thereof, with no cap,” Della says. “Now, you might get in the mail something saying you owe on a ticket, but you think, It can’t be me, because it’s been removed from the windshield.”

Della says people lose or misplace tickets all the time, and that tickets disappear from cars on the street, so drivers, through no fault of their own, may end up owing hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a single unpaid parking ticket. Sometimes, he says, they don’t find out about the fees and fines until they try to renew their vehicle registration. The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration won’t renew license tags until fines are settled.

“So they flag your registration renewal and assume you’ll throw up your hands in disgust and say, ‘I got to do it to get my tags renewed,’” he says. “Then you’re whacked by an administrative fee,” in addition from MVA.

Della says most jurisdictions already cap their late charges, but Baltimore doesn’t—because it makes a lot of money with its policy. A fiscal note attached to Della’s bill—No. 177 in the Senate—estimates that, if passed, the city would lose $4 million in 2007 and $5.3 million annually thereafter. The O’Malley administration opposes Della’s bill, and there is no similar bill in the House.

“Limiting late fees . . . is an unwarranted interference with local prerogatives that would encourage citation recipients to defer payment indefinitely,” according to a letter from Deputy Mayor Jeanne Hitchcock to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which heard the bill Feb. 1.

Della says that of the 317,000 tickets issued in Baltimore in 2005 37 percent—about 118,000—were paid immediately. Another 103,000 were never paid, and the remaining 96,000 or so were outstanding for an average of 4.2 months—which is $80 worth in late fees.

Della’s parking ticket bill got to the Senate floor last year despite city opposition, but it died in the House. He says he’ll keep pushing the matter until he gets the bill passed.

“I get tickets,” Della admits. “I live in the city. We all get tickets. It’s a part of life. But for God’s sake, let’s be fair about it.”

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