FOX19 Investigates: Cincinnati cracking down hard enough on unpaid parking tickets?

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Thousands of drivers in the Tri-State owe Cincinnati nearly $3 million in unpaid parking tickets for two years alone, money that could pay a lot of the city's bills during these tight budget times, FOX19 Investigates has learned.

Records obtained from the city show some drivers racked-up handfuls of parking tickets:

  • Mercedes Lynn Smith, 10 tickets, $1,050 owed
  • Dana L. Hill, 7 tickets, $1,135 owed
  • Antonio Rutherford, 13 tickets, $1,365 owed
  • Melody Thompson, 7 tickets, $1,495 owed
  • Tynishia Gilbert, 18 tickets, $1,820 owed

The figures are from 2011 and 2012, the latest years available. Cincinnati's treasurer says unpaid parking ticket information for 2013 won't be ready until May or June.

FOX19 has learned that parking enforcement officers are allowed to tow a vehicle when they discover its driver has not paid three previous parking tickets. However, the records we examined show that it's not always being done.

"It's not automatic," parking enforcement supervisor Sean Riffle said. "It's kind of, as you go along we try to give everybody somewhat of a break. Once we reach four or more, we tell the officer that they should impound the vehicle."

So when an officer is about to write a fourth ticket for a driver, which he knows because the handheld device that prints the tickets alerts him, he's allowed to impound the car.

That's important because if the person moves out of Ohio, or commutes here from Indiana and Kentucky, it can be nearly impossible to track them down. When it comes to parking violations, Indiana and Kentucky do not share the driver's name that belongs to a license plate.

FOX19's investigation reveals City Hall shares some of the blame for lax parking enforcement. Cincinnati officials have not allowed the parking department to replace officers who've left, leaving in flux those who've remained, as council members and the previous mayor debated selling the meters to a subsidiary of Xerox.

"For like a year, we were just wondering what was going to happen," said Riffle.

We asked the new mayor, John Cranley, and his spokesman for an update on whether the parking privatization plan is definitely dead. But they did not get back to us.

All of the money owed Cincinnati by drivers with unpaid parking tickets amounts to $2.7 million for 2011 and 2012, city records show. That would pay for a lot of the things taxpayers have to shell-out money for every year, according to FOX19's analysis:

  • 828,221 gallons of gasoline (at the $3.26/gallon rate the city paid its supplier in late December)
  • City Hall's electricity bill for 21 years (it was about $128,000 in 2013)
  • 42,187.5 tons of salt (at the current rate of $64 per ton)

The city has hired a third party vendor who tries to track down these parking scofflaws in exchange for a percentage of the fines. But even it can't find a lot of them.

As our investigation shows, the best chance for getting someone to pay is often by impounding the driver's car right then and there, since Cincinnati does not use "boots." However, records show, that's often not happening.

Click here for the list of 2011 and 2012 unpaid tickets.

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