Wednesday February 13, 2013

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Police are planning an aggressive push to collect about $150,000 owed to the town in 5,538 unpaid parking tickets and late fees after a month-long amnesty period in March.

Records date to 1997

Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette said the town's parking ticket records date back to 1997, including 676 issued and unpaid in North Bennington. The records are becoming too cumbersome and the department is hoping to clear the backlog, he said.

The department's records clerk is working to compile an updated list of names and vehicles that have unpaid tickets. Different vehicles registered to the same person will be lumped together. Anyone with four or more unpaid tickets is in danger of having any of their registered vehicles immobilized, according to local laws.

"There are several people that have recently been added to the Bennington Police Department boot list," he said. "It shouldn't have to come to that. We do send notices that tell people that they have unpaid parking tickets. We ask that people be responsible and come forward. We'd like to clear up some of this."

Parking tickets are now $25, raised several years ago by the Select Board from $5. If tickets are not paid within 72 hours the fee is doubled. That has added up to a significant amount of money, Doucette said.

"The estimated revenue on the outstanding parking tickets, with additional fees as a result of the tickets being late, is in excess of $150,000," he said.

However, from March 1 through March 31, the town is offering an amnesty period. Anyone with outstanding tickets will be able to pay them during that time for the original fee, without late fees. People can call the records clerk at the department to determine if they have unpaid tickets.

"I would say it's fair to assume that most people that have these unpaid parking tickets know. At one point they received notice of a parking ticket. It's placed on your windshield or your side window. You see that when you enter your vehicle," Doucette said.

People already on the department's boot list are at risk of having any of their vehicles immobilized, Doucette said. Local law allows for any unattended vehicle that is owned and registered by a person on the boot list and parked on a public road or public parking lot to be booted.

"What the ordinance says is that it doesn't necessarily have to be the vehicle that you received the parking ticket with," Doucette said. "If you no longer have that vehicle it doesn't matter because the ordinance is very clear."

There is an additional $50 fee to remove the immobilizing boot, plus payment of the outstanding tickets. An immobilized vehicle can be towed, for additional fees, if payment is not made within 24 hours after a car is immobilized, according to Doucette.

The renewed effort to settle outstanding parking tickets is not about collect revenue, officials said.

"We're certainly not looking to generate a bunch of revenue. If we were we would not be running the amnesty program," Doucette said.

Bennington Town Manager Stuart A. Hurd said the town has sought to settle the tickets for some time.

"It's something that they've decided to take on. It's been outstanding, and periodically I do ask the question of what we're doing about it," Hurd said. "I think it's appropriate."

Hurd said he hopes the effort by police will result in recovery of the face value of the original tickets, about $75,000. That money would be go into a fund that is used to improve and maintain local municipal parking lots.

"It's not like this money goes into the general fund," he said.

Contact Neal Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @NealGoswami