January 18, 2008


With $300,000 in unpaid parking tickets —

Police hoping to crack down on scofflaws


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Parking Enforcement Officer Fran Cobb walks along Central Avenue Thursday ticketing vehicles in downtown Cortland.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — As a result of more than $300,000 owed to the city in unpaid parking tickets, city police hope to soon begin placing wheel locks on violators’ cars.
City Police Chief Jim Nichols said he has been tracking experiences of other cities in booting cars and hopes to implement the practice in Cortland by the end of the year.
A boot can come in different styles, but essentially it is placed on or over the wheel of a vehicle to prevent it from moving.
Nichols said the idea requires Common Council approval, and he plans to go before the council within the next couple of months.
“Now we have the technology to pursue those individuals who don’t pay their parking tickets,” Nichols said.
There are currently 12,621 unpaid tickets within the city, which is equivalent to $367,650. Connie Sorrells, senior account clerk at City Hall, who deals with 90 percent of the parking tickets, said the tickets go as far back as 1992.
“It’s a huge financial burden. We don’t destroy them and they don’t go away,” she said. “Parking is tough but there are a lot of resources that aren’t being used because it’s not convenient, like the college students and the school parking lots.”
The city’s parking rules include no parking overnight on any city street, time regulated parking on Main Street and city lots, no parking on lawns and no blocking sidewalks.
Fines range between $15 for overtime parking to $80 for parking, stopping or standing in a handicapped zone. After seven days, each fine increases between $5 and $10, and after 30 days of going unpaid, the fine increases another $10.
Sorrells said there are two citizens, whose names she did not reveal, who together owe the city more than $6,000 in unpaid parking tickets.
“Fines, parking tickets, they’re a penalty and people don’t like that,” Sorrells said. “To maintain the city we have to enforce the rules. There are way more cars than people. If you know you have tickets, pay them or take the necessary steps to appeal.”
Many business owners on Main Street feel the parking time constraints hinder downtown business.
Four years ago, Doug Moss, owner of Sacred Art Tattoo & Piercing Studio on Main Street, went to each business with a petition in favor of changing the parking in the downtown area. Moss proposed the city install parking meters or parking validation machines to allow people to park as long as they needed to.
Instead of moving their car every two hours, customers could just place more money in the machine to stay parked in the spot longer, he said. In turn, the city would gain revenue for all downtown parking and could still write out parking tickets for those with expired parking.
“If you want to spend an afternoon in Cortland, it takes more than two hours,” Moss said. “We want Cortland to flourish. We’re sending invitations for people to come and spend their money and time downtown but if you stay too long, we’ll fine you. The parking system doesn’t work.”
Mayor Tom Gallagher said the city has looked into parking meters and parking validation machines in the past, but said it is too costly for the city.
“It’s a great idea but it’s very expensive,” he said. “You would have to order more than needed in case one gets banged up, hire someone to run the computers and collect the money, and the police department is already short staffed.”
Steve Barnes, owner of Ultimate Music, also said the parking constraints on Main Street deter customers from spending time downtown.
“It makes a lot of customers angry,” he said. “People can go to Wal-Mart and park all day and not have to worry.”
Although the booting program in Cortland is still in the preliminary research and planning phase, Gallagher said he supports bringing the program to the city because it would make people more responsible in their parking habits.
Nichols agreed.
“It would improve compliance with parking regulations and increase the revenue for a city that pays a lot for parking enforcement,” he said.
The city has two part-time parking enforcement officer positions, one of which is currently filled and the other of which will be filled by the end of the year. The total budget for the officers is $18,768.
In 2007, more than 6,000 parking tickets were issued within the city. Nichols said the number of tickets has been decreasing over time. In 1990, 12,053 tickets were issued.
“I believe we have adequate parking. In the downtown area there are close to 900 parking spaces,” Nichols said.
The Cortland Police Department plans to use its computer system to enter the license plate of those people who qualify as scofflaws, meaning they have numerous unpaid parking tickets, and then put a boot on those vehicles.
“For us a scofflaw is three or more unpaid parking tickets,” Nichols said.
With its new license plate reader, which uses two infrared cameras on top of a patrol car to pick up the reflective properties of a license plate and run the number in the computer system to find any problems, police can find those scofflaw violators and boot their vehicles, so long as they are on public property.
The Cortland Police Department has been using the license plate reader since Aug. 21. The Cortland County Sheriff’s Department also has a vehicle with the device and began using the system in February 2007.
The reader scans anywhere between 6,000 and 9,000 licenses plates per day, and plate information is stored in the program for 30 days. There are five types of alerts for an officer using the reader, one of which is for scofflaws.
Nichols said once the officer finds a plate that registered to a scofflaw, the officer will check with the DMV and the DMV will place a bar of the registration of the vehicle, followed by a boot.
“The boot will remain on the vehicle until the tickets are paid,” he added. “There will be an additional fee for the installation and removal of the boot, as well.” The fee runs about $100 for both the installation and removal.
Nichols said if the vehicle remains in a spot with the boot and the tickets go unpaid for an extended period of time, the vehicle would be towed and the owner would then also have to pay the cost to tow and store the car.
There are several ways Nichols is looking into funding the boot program, including using the police department’s budget and placing the equipment costs on the towing companies.
Nichols said in order for the program to work, the city would have to contract with a towing company, who in turn would receive a portion of the installation and removal fee for the boot.
“We are in the preliminary stages in examining how other communities are doing this,” Nichols added. “Everything is being examined to see what would work in our community.”




Committees take look at county space needs

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — With Cortland County in need of increased space for the Health and Mental Health departments, Board of Elections and County Jail, and with the impending construction of a Department of Motor Vehicles office off of River Street in the city, Cortland County legislators began brainstorming possible solutions throughout the first week of legislative committee meetings.
County Administrator Scott Schrader said that the county’s engineering firm, Barton & Loguidice, has been retained to complete a $20,000 study of the County Office Building that the company has yet to begin. Schrader has scheduled a meeting with engineers for Tuesday and said that the study would likely take a couple of months to complete.
“Basically, it’ll be a space utilization to make sure that we’re using our space in the most efficient way and to make sure that the space that people have is the space that people need,” Schrader said Thursday.
The Legislature has already taken steps to move forward with the relocation of the DMV, agreeing to purchase a parcel off of River Street near the BOCES plaza on Port Watson Street for the construction of a 4,000-square-foot facility.
At the General Services Committee meeting Tuesday, legislator Chad Loomis (D-8th Ward) suggested moving some of the operations of the county Board of Elections office to the new DMV site.
Once New York State moves into compliance with 2002’s federal Help America Vote Act, the county will be responsible for storing the new electronic voting machines that the law requires. This requires a secure temperature and humidity controlled publicly accessible facility.
This could be included in the DMV building, Loomis suggested.
Buildings and Grounds superintendent Brian Parker pointed out that there wouldn’t be much of a point in storing the voting machines anywhere unless the elections office was moved to the same location.




Budget committee vice chair choice sparks rift

Democratic majority leader upset Republican legislator received appointment over her

Staff Reporter

Contention and ill humor followed the appointment of a vice-chair of the Cortland County Legislature’s Budget and Finance Committee on Thursday, although the remainder of the vice-chair appointments were not politically contentious.
The divide between Democratic legislators on the Budget and Finance Committee could be a symptom of the significant Republican support that resulted in the election of Democrat John Daniels as chairman of the Legislature on Jan. 3.
Legislator John Troy (D-1st Ward) is chairing the Budget and Finance Committee, a high-profile committee responsible for approving any non-budgeted expenses before forwarding them to the full Legislature.
The committee has traditionally been in the hands of the majority leader, but Troy’s strong interest in the chairmanship of the committee persuaded Majority Leader Sandy Price (D-Harford and Virgil) to yield her claim to that position.
But Price was expecting the vice-chairmanship of that committee, and she and committee member Carol Tytler (D-3rd Ward) objected strongly when Troy appointed Republican Newell Willcox of Homer as vice chairman of the committee.
After Troy announced the appointment on Thursday, Tytler — who unsuccessfully pursued the chairmanship of the Legislature — objected to the decision.
“It is my understanding that your first choice was Mrs. Price, but that the chairman of the Legislature had already promised that (the vice chairmanship) to Mr. Willcox,” Tytler said to Troy, referring to Legislature Chairman John Daniels (D-Cortlandville).