Parking fine amnesty in Baltimore draws another large crowd

Up to 40,000 people take advantage of two-day program

October 11, 2003|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Thousands more stood in line yesterday to cash in on the city's ticket amnesty program, billed as a once-in-a-decade chance to dodge hefty late fees on unpaid parking tickets.

An estimated 34,000 to 40,000 people paid old tickets at money-order outlets around the city over the two-day amnesty period, which began Thursday, said Vassil Nikolov, a manager at Global Express Money Orders.

Thousands more settled their debts through the mail and at the Abel Wolman Municipal Building downtown. City officials declined to estimate how many but said the number should be known by Tuesday.

"We probably have as many people as yesterday," said Stanley J. Milesky, chief of the Bureau of Treasury Management.

At the Wolman building, the crowd wrapped around the block early yesterday, as it did all day Thursday.

By midday, the line was half a block long, but city officials attributed that to more efficient service, not a smaller crowd.

The bureau staff worked out kinks in its procedures after the doors closed Thursday, Milesky said.

"The whole thing's just flowing," he said. "We're really pleased."

Unlike most cities, Baltimore piles late penalties onto parking tickets indefinitely. So a $20 ticket can lead to a debt of hundreds, even thousands of dollars.

The City Council approved the amnesty program in August, saying it wanted to cut drivers some slack at a time when it was increasing parking fines.

The bill creating the program said the city would not offer another amnesty for 10 years.

Critics said the plan would cost the city $4.2 million in lost late fees.

Others say the tickets would have gone unpaid if scofflaws hadn't been given the incentive of amnesty.

"The city is not going to see a big [financial] benefit, but I still think in light of the fact that we increased parking [fines], I think it was the right thing to do," said Councilwoman Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake, chief sponsor of the amnesty bill.

"It will give people an opportunity to start with a clean slate," she said.

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