By CHRIS GRAMUGLIA
Enough is enough.
The Town of Mamaroneck is getting serious when it comes to drivers who don’t pay parking fines in the unincorporated area and has passed legislation enabling police officers to scan license plates in an attempt to root out such offenders. Depending on the number of outstanding tickets drivers have, police will be able to tow and impound offending vehicles after scanning the license plates.
Until the recent passing of the law, the town had no method of collecting outstanding parking fines, allowing offenders to continue to evade payment. The newly-adopted law gives police the authorization to tow vehicles even if they are parked legally at the time the deliquent tickets are discovered.
Town Administrator Steve Altieri said the number of outstanding fines has grown recently, prompting the need for the new legislation.
“We’ve noticed them accumulating over the last several years,” Altieri said. “There used to be a time where you would issue warrants for arrest [for those who hadn’t paid fines] which is no longer practical.”
According to Town Supervisor Nancy Seligson, a Democrat, the town’s lack of a mechanism for collecting fines has also caused some issues with police.
“I just know the frustration the police have of people blocking fire hydrants or driveways, and all these compounded violations. And all we [could do before the new law was passed was] give them another ticket,” she said.
Seligson said that the law will only apply to the owners of vehicles who have received tickets in the unincorporated area. “I think it could be anyone in the world if they owed us three parking tickets, but the parking violation has to have occurred within the town,” she said.
According to the text of the law, if the owner of a vehicle is discovered to have three or more outstanding tickets that were issued in the unincorporated area, the vehicle will be towed without notification and impounded.
Also, if the vehicle is parked illegally on town property, a public street or highway, or in a public lot, it can also be towed even if police detect less than three violations. In the event of a vehicle being parked in a lot that is part of a shopping center or apartment complex, the owner or person in charge of that lot will be able to file a complaint and have the car removed. The vehicle does not have to be a scofflaw, as long as it is parked illegaly.
Once a car is impounded, the owner will be charged with all outstanding fines owed to the town, the towing cost and the cost of storing the car in an impound lot, but the owner will not be liable for any additional fine exceeding $250.
Town Attorney William Maker said the town did have some ways of collecting fines prior to the passing of the new law, but that now the rules will be much more clearly defined.
“There was a statute that allowed the administrator to contract with towing companies to tow,” Maker said. “This is a much more detailed set of rules, and the time had come for it.”
Maker said he thinks the proposed law will be a good solution to the problem of collecting fees, but some people will inevitably find ways to avoid it.
“I think, with most enforcement legislation, it will get certain people to recognize that they have to abide by the law, and there will also be a class of people who will manipulate their car ownership so as not to comply with the law,” he said. “There is always going to be that core of people who will manipulate the system.”
Some town residents said they don’t feel that the law is fair because those who have their cars towed will not be notified, while others feel that the law is justified.
“I don’t have any outstanding tickets, but I don’t think the cars should be towed. Sometimes people get ticketed and they don’t even know about it,” Joan Meehan, 52, said. “I think they should be notified. I think the police should be able to run the plates and see, but it’s not fair to just tow them.”
Arthur Kirms, 67, said that people who pay their tickets should not have an issue with the new law.
“I agree with it,” he said. “If you have nothing to hide you shouldn’t be offended by it. On the other hand, it is a little much to the extent of [invasion of] privacy, but I have nothing to hide.”
The Village of Mamaroneck already has a scofflaw law in place that gives police the authority to either boot or tow cars with outstanding violations, according to Mayor Norman Rosenblum, a Republican.
“If you have outstanding tickets and they’re not paid [the police] have the authority to boot your vehicle, but typically just tow them away,” Rosenblum said. “This really came about because of a review that showed over $600,000 in outstanding fines.”
According to Rosenblum, the village has renegotiated the terms of its contract with Complus, an agency that provides data as well as equipment for issuing and collecting delinquent parking fines, and will continue its relationship with the company.
The Town of Mamaroneck does not use Complus or any similar service, according to Councilwoman Jaine Elkind Eney, a Democrat, because of the layout and structure of the unincorporated area.
“The reason we don’t use that service is because we don’t have the volume of cars in commercial locations that the Village of Mamaroneck has,” Eney said.
Eney said the Town Council is confident that the towing will remedy much of the problem of residents not paying their fines.
The Town of Mamaroneck’s towing law was passed after a July 24 public hearing and will go into effect a week to ten days following that date, or as soon as the legislation is filed with the Secretary of State.
-With reporting by COREY BAUMER