Howard lawmaker seeks to toughen law on towing for tickets

Council bill allows towing after 90 days of unpaid fine

October 10, 2011|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

Parking violators in Howard County might want to address those overdue fines, or they could be collecting their vehicles from the impound lot and paying towing, storage and late fees, too.

The County Council is considering a bill that would authorize the Police Department to tow a vehicle for even one parking ticket that has gone unpaid for 90 days. Council Chairman Calvin Ball, who introduced the bill Oct. 3, said the measure addresses a challenging issue in many county neighborhoods.

"We want to be able to collect our fines," said Ball, a Columbia Democrat.

Existing policy allows for towing vehicles whose owners have accumulated three or more unpaid citations.

As of Aug. 31, the county had 5,219 unpaid citations on file. The bill would apply to 4,753 of those citations and would represent 3,650 tags, officials said. The bill could come up for a vote on Nov. 7 and if passed, would take effect in 61 days.

"It is important to note that this bill is the result of our inability to address some long-standing problems and was the result of constituent concerns," Ball said.

Ball said that he and his council colleagues have heard frequent complaints about illegally parked cars on neighborhood streets.

"Our goal here is to help enforce the law," he said. "This bill will benefit neighborhoods across the county."

Several council members said they are waiting to hear from the public before making a decision.

Fulton Republican Greg Fox said he expects many residents will oppose the measure. Courtney Watson, a Democrat from Ellicott City, said she wants to see how the parking issue "impacts the county overall."

Councilwoman Jennifer Terrasa, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, said she, too, has received complaints about illegally parked vehicles, but is unsure of the long-range implications of the proposal.

"I appreciate that there is a problem to resolve," she said. "But I want to wait to see if this bill meets the needs and if there are unintended consequences. I would not like to see the car of an average citizen towed just for being three months behind on payment."

The collection of parking fines falls to the county department of finance, which would designate vehicles with outstanding violations, and then alert the police department that those vehicles are eligible for impoundment.

"This issue is not district specific and occurs throughout the entire county," Ball said. "Having the authority to collect parking fines is essential in the department of finance so that it can carry out its duties. Authorizing our police to impound a vehicle under these conditions is a reasonable recourse."

Owners could retrieve their vehicles only after paying all fines as well as late fees and the cost of towing and storage, according to the bill.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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