Parking fines to be studied
City violation rates at the bottom of statewide assessments, could increase pending further study
Last updated 3/5/2021 at 9:56am
CHENEY — The amount violators pay for a parking citation in the city may soon change, depending upon the outcome of a Police Department study and decision by the City Council.
In a presentation to the council at their Feb. 23 meeting, Cheney Police Chief John Hensley noted the city’s infraction amount of $25 hadn’t changed since he became chief in 2011. Following a request from the Public Safety Committee to do some preliminary research, Hensley said he discovered that regionally, the city has the lowest rate among municipalities who cite parking violations — with Liberty Lake the highest at $50 and the cities of Spokane, Airway Heights and Spokane County assessing $30 fines. State Law actually sets a minimum charge of $30.
Hensley felt he needed a larger sample to compare, so he went online and contacted police chiefs in “college towns” throughout the state — finding the only city equal to Cheney’s amount was Ellensburg, home of Central Washington University. Fines ranged from there to a high of $75 in Olympia, with Seattle coming in at $47, Tacoma at $35 and Western Washington University’s location of Bellingham at $30.
“Again, we’re in the bottom of this,” Hensley said. “Bottom line — I think an adjustment is called for.”
Two “college towns” have sliding scales for tickets, with Walla Walla charging $10 if paid the day of the fine, and then progressing upwards every 30 days from there to $100. Pullman has a range of charges where fines in commercial areas are lower than fines in residential areas, such as $10 – $25 if the ticket is paid within the first seven days, $25 – $63 if paid between 8 – 14 days and $40 – $75 from 14-29 days, with $100 being added to the fine after 30 days.
“That encourages students to park on campus, not in neighborhoods,” Hensley said. “And, it doesn’t overly burden business districts with parking ticket expenses.”
Hensley also said Cheney lacks several violations in its “tool box” that could be added to a ticket, such as citing cars parked on the streets with expired tabs, especially if parked longer than the city’s maximum of 72 hours. He noted that fines have two goals: being enough to dissuade people from violating the conditions and punitive in such a way that if they commit a violation they don’t do it again.
He also said raising fines can result in “sticker shock” to the public.
“We need to find, to use a baseball term, where the sweet spot is on the baseball bat in terms of what we need to be charging these folks for violation of our municipal code,” Hensley said. “What is that number? That is where City Council needs to come in and give me direction as to where you think the appropriate number should be.”
Municipal Court Administrator Terri Cooper said she was around the last time the city raised the parking infraction amount in 2008 – 2009 from $10 to $25, and said there was some negative response, mostly from Eastern Washington University students but also residents. She added that the city tacks on $25 after 30 days as a late fee, and then another $25 if it goes to collections, receiving $50 of the $75 total if the fine is eventually received.
Cooper said about 17% of parking tickets in Cheney go to collections, with about 50% of those resulting in successful collections, higher than the state average of 17% for court fines. As for costs to the city for each ticket, Cooper said that runs about $4.35 per ticket, amounting to about $20,000 per year.
“We have about 75 contested hearings a year, which adds judge and prosecutor costs, which are calculated into that $20,000,” she added.
As for police, Hensley said it takes about 3 – 5 minutes for an officer to write a ticket, which amounts to about $5 per ticket. Overall, the city makes roughly $100,000 a year in parking ticket revenue.
“We’re never going to see this make or generate huge amounts of revenue, but I would certainly be interested in not going backwards and spending a lot of our resources on enforcement and not covering the greater part of our costs,” Councilman Paul Schmidt said. “I would be interested in some further info and take a look at this in a more holistic fashion.”
Hensley told the council he would generate more information and produce a detailed report on parking fines at an upcoming meeting.
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.