Curbing parking scofflaws is goal Baltimore County, owed $1.2 million, is cracking down

March 07, 1997|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

As Baltimore County officials move aggressively to step up collections from the growing legion of parking scofflaws, the Susan Meehlings of the world pose a formidable challenge.

Meehling is the county's champion parking scofflaw, owing nearly $8,000 for 22 parking tickets. But the Eastwood woman, whose liquor store business failed last year -- and whose car was towed two years ago because of the tickets and sold for scrap -- said the county isn't likely to collect.

"I don't have anything for them to take. I'm down and out," she said.

County officials hope that collecting the rest of the estimated $1.2 million in overdue tickets will be possible.

Collections will be pursued more aggressively starting next month. The county expects to have hired a collection agency by then to complement J. L. Associates, the Rockville company hired in 1994 to write parking tickets for the county. Bids for the collection contract are to be opened today.

"We've got to make every effort to collect the fines," said Joel M. Schlanger, the deputy county finance director.

According to finance department records, the county is owed about $360,000 for 12,211 overdue parking tickets issued over the past four years to vehicles bearing out-of-state tags, ranging from one Quebec vehicle to 2,181 from Virginia and 2,166 from Pennsylvania.

In addition, the county is owed more than $860,000 for 15,000 delinquent tickets issued to Maryland-registered vehicles over the same period.

Annually, the county accumulates about 6,500 delinquent tickets which $235,000 is owed, bidders on the collection contract were told. One measure of the value: In an average year, the

money owed by scofflaws would pay for snow removal on all 2,500 miles of county roads.

Baltimore County's uncollected fines and penalties pale next to those in Baltimore, where illegal parkers owe more than $7 million, city officials say. Montgomery County is owed $3.7 million for overdue tickets.

The collection agency hired by Baltimore County will primarily go after two groups of scofflaws: those from out of state and those whose tags expire while they have unpaid tickets. There won't be any amnesty period before the first notices go out, officials said, although the contract proposal says that no threats, intimidation, or harassment will be permitted.

Many owe $500 or more

Owners of 1,270 vehicles owe at least $500 to the county. Most of that money is the accumulation of $10-a-month penalties for nonpayment.

For example, Meehling's bill for the tickets alone is $405. The rest, except for a $15 fee for flagging her registration, results from penalties accumulating at $220 a month.

"I went out to go to work one morning and there was a cop there," Meehling said, describing the loss of her 1988 Chrysler on Feb. 10, 1995. "I signed a paper, went back and called a cab.

"I figured they took my car. I never received another notice. I guessed they just called it even."

They didn't. The car was towed to a private storage lot in Essex and sold for scrap after Meehling failed to claim it.

She now drives her husband's car.

List given to police

Unlike Baltimore, the county has no public impound lot or mechanical boot for immobilizing the vehicles of scofflaws.

Once a vehicle has three overdue tickets, its license tag number goes on a list distributed to county police, who may have the vehicle towed by one of the private towers registered with the department.

Traffic officers search for violators when they have time, police spokesman Sgt. Kevin Novak said, adding that the department towed 30 vehicles from July through January.

While police tow a few vehicles a month, the number of scofflaws subject to towing keeps growing, from 675 in July 1995 to 1,057 last July to 1,248 by the end of December.

New tags barred

Owners whose tags expire while they have delinquent parking tickets are barred from obtaining new tags from the Motor Vehicle Administration until the overdue fines are paid.

Schlanger suspects that many of the hundreds of vehicles in that category with parking fines exceeding $500 have been re-registered somehow, despite the law. He is not alone.

"The flagging system isn't that effective," said Glenn Wyman, chief of Montgomery County's treasury division. Montgomery is also moving to hire a collection agency, he said.

Skirting the law

In one Baltimore County case, for example, an Arbutus woman who owed $173 for an unpaid $18 ticket was sent three notices, then was notified that her registration was being flagged by the MVA. Records show that she let her registration expire but later obtained new tags for the same 1994 Ford that had been ticketed.

According to MVA records, she showed proof of payment for the traffic tickets before getting the new tags, said Jim Lang, an MVA spokesman.

But Baltimore County records show the debt unpaid, Schlanger said.

Pub Date: 3/07/97

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