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West Fargo moves to add late fees to parking tickets

Officials are trying to put some "teeth" into existing ordinances.

Parking ticket
File photo of Kathy Spielman, a Fargo Police community service officer, ticketing a SUV in downtown Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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WEST FARGO — Those with unpaid parking tickets from the city of West Fargo may soon face having their vehicles towed or a boot placed on them until the fines are paid.

At the Tuesday, Sept. 6, West Fargo City Commission meeting, Police Chief Denis Otternesss asked that the city's parking ordinance be changed to allow the department to add pressure for violators who have not paid parking fines.

Otterness said revising the ordinance would allow the department to capture some of the unpaid fines or additional fees for nonpayment of parking citations.

He did not propose raising the parking fine for first offenses. Those fines were raised from $8 to $20 in the last year or so, he said.

Under the proposed change, if a ticket is not paid within 10 days, an additional late fee of $5 would be placed on top of the $20 fine. If a ticket is not paid in 30 days, there would be an additional $45 fee.

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"There really aren't any teeth behind our current parking violations," Otterness said. "We don't have a mechanism right now to enforce compliance other than having our staff send a letter that they pay the fine."

He estimated the late fees and unpaid fines could generate tens of thousands of dollars.

In 2017, the department wrote 335 parking citations. As of Tuesday, the department had issued 1,503 tickets. There were about 255 tickets still outstanding at that time, Otterness said.

"If everyone paid their parking fine within 10 days, that would generate about $30,000 in revenue," Otterness said.

He said he would also like to introduce some additional consequences for non-payment of fines and multiple violations.

If someone has two or more unpaid parking tickets that are 30 days or more in arrears, then they would be subject to having their vehicle towed or a non-movement device being placed on the vehicle until tickets are paid.

"This ordinance has gone through several revisions, even back to the day when we used to issue arrest warrants for those with unpaid parking tickets," Otterness said.

While he was not suggesting that police return to issuing an arrest warrant for unpaid parking tickets, Commissioner Mandy George questioned the speed of escalation from continued late fees to towing a truck.

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"I feel like it gets too extreme way too fast," George said. "To me, that is too severe for too minimal a crime."

Otterness said his proposal mirrors Fargo's system of fine increases for nonpayment. Fargo's online parking information says those with two or more unpaid parking tickets that are more than 30 days late are subject to towing or a boot.

Commissioner Brad Olson asked if parked trailers would be included in the ordinance change, and Otterness confirmed they would.

The change in ordinance and implementation of late fees would be accompanied by a new program that will allow officers to use electronic-issued citations. Currently, officers must hand-write tickets that are then returned to the station, and a staff member must manually enter the ticket into the system. Those who receive a ticket must pay the fine at City Hall or by mail.

The electronic tickets will allow for an online payment system as well as a way for the public to appeal or object to the ticket. Those who wish to object to their parking ticket must appeal in Municipal Court at this time.

"This would make it easier for them," Otterness said.

The new system would cost about $22,000 for operation, but he said he expects the system will pay for itself.

The commission approved the proposal on a 3-1 vote with George voting against it and Commissioner Mark Simmons not in attendance. The ordinance changes will return to the commission for a second reading at the commission's second meeting in September before any changes take effect.

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READ MORE FROM WEST FARGO EDITOR WENDY REUER
WEST FARGO — After seeing a dramatic increase in premium costs year after year, West Fargo Public Schools plans to change its health insurance plans in order to spend less money on the benefit and invest more into staff salaries.

Readers can reach West Fargo editor Wendy Reuer at wreuer@forumcomm.com or 701-241-5530 . Follow her on Twitter @ForumWendy .

As the West Fargo editor, Wendy Reuer covers all things West Fargo for The Forum and oversees the production of the weekly Pioneer.
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