Town parking levies protested/ Violators face collection agency

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Shepherdstown resident Dakota Crawford, 20 (right) speaks with Shepherd University senior art major David Harper (left) on Feb. 23 about the recent increase in parking ticket fees in town.

(THE PICKET) – For the past few weeks, Shepherdstown resident Dakota Crawford has been collecting signatures on a petition demanding new parking laws in Shepherdstown be repealed.

“I see now why politicians, political activists, people in politics have fake smiles,” Crawford, 20, said. “You say the same thing 800 times to 500 different people to no effect. Of course you don’t want to smile.”

Crawford is petitioning increases in fees for parking violations in the town.

“It used to cost $40 if you got a ticket for leaving your car in a 90 minute free parking zone and now it costs $60,” Crawford said. “If you don’t pay the $10 fine for meters within 24 hours the price goes up to $30. They used to have a longer grace period.”

Shepherdstown police chief Michael King said that these increases in ticket prices, along with other adjustments to violation charges took effect Feb. 1 but they have not been made public on Shepherdstown’s website http://www.shepherdstown.us/. He expects the fee changes will be posted by this week.

“Our prices are still low relatively,” King said in an interview Tuesday. “We asked ourselves if our prices might be ridiculous, so we compared them to state standards. If you are charged with a parking violation from the state it will cost you $9.75, but after court fees, it’s $165.25.”

King said the most Shepherdstown will charge for a single parking violation is $100 with the exception of a handicap space violation where the state mandated fee is $500.

King said the fee increases were implemented in part to pay for the new online parking app Passport, for those parking in town. Passport also allows the police to more easily ticket people violating parking rules as it allows them to print tickets from their phones while patrolling. The app also allows police to access their database and see how many prior unpaid parking violations have been accumulated. King said that this allows for more ground to be covered during patrols and less paperwork.

“We got a lot of complaints about the old app we used for parking, Parkmobile,” King said. “We also needed to have an in-house server for it and our data banks would crash all the time. Passport has their own servers, so this is no longer an issue.”

King said that he believes the reason townspeople and students are protesting the increased prices of tickets is because the Passport system allows the police to enforce ticket payments quicker.

“We used to send letters to people with outstanding parking fines and only 5 percent of them would respond, it was labor intensive and not worth the effort,” King said. “West Virginia doesn’t allow suspension of licenses for parking violations like some other states do, so there wasn’t much we could do. Now, Passport will notify buyers of unpaid fees after 30 days by letter and if they do not reply, Passport will send a collection agency after them.”

King said that the police department’s databank of unpaid tickets goes back to 2007, but with the implementation of the Passport system they will only be actively pursuing people with unpaid tickets dating back to Jan. 1, 2013.

King also said that the town police department has frequent issues with college students who confuse them with Shepherd University police.

“One of the key things I hear is that students think their tickets in town come out of their tuition. That is not the case.” King said. “If college students cannot afford to pay their tickets, they should come in and talk to us and we may be able to work something out.”

King said that Passport will force people to take their parking tickets seriously.

“Just today we had someone come in at 10 a.m. to get a boot removed from their car, which is what happens when a person reaches $100 in unpaid parking violations,” said King. “He paid $220, cleaned out his account. By 10:30 he had a new ticket. People are used to facing no consequences for their parking tickets.”

King encouraged Shepherd students to get the Passport Parking app as it will allow them to pay for their meters via their phone apps before they run out of time. He said that tickets can be paid at the Shepherdstown police station between 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday or deposited into the dropbox outside of town hall after hours.

Crawford plans to continue to get signatures for his petition and raise awareness of the new pricing increases, which he says he feels are unjust.

“I’m working on this petition to show that this problem is effecting everyone to the point that someone like myself, with no car and no license spent a week going around town getting signatures to protest,” he said. “With the amount of people living in town who are already under and wavering on the poverty line, it’s just a way for town council to tighten its monetary grip on its people.”

Crawford had collected 215 signatures by Tuesday, March 1. He plans to present the petition to the Shepherdstown parking committee and hold a peaceful protest at the town hall March 24.