Bid to cut parking penalties

FINE IDEA: Deputy Mayor Jim Jefferies wants to reduce error penalties.
FINE IDEA: Deputy Mayor Jim Jefferies wants to reduce error penalties.

Palmerston North's detested $40 parking fines could be on the way out.

Deputy mayor Jim Jefferies will ask the city council to reduce the penalty for failing to activate the meter correctly to $12 from December 1.

That would put the mistake of keying in the wrong bay number on the same level as overstaying paid time.

He is also proposing a two-year process to phase out the council's reliance on about $600,000 a year raised from fines for day-to-day expenses.

By July 2015, he wants all revenue from parking fines to be spent on repaying debt instead.

"The parking saga has gone on too long," he said. "We need to do something about it now. Actions to date have clearly not been acceptable to the people of Palmerston North."

The proposal has been welcomed by parking regime critics Ralph Bare and former deputy mayor John Hornblow.

Bare said the move was good news, but it should have happened months ago.

Hornblow said the public would be delighted.

He applauded Jefferies and urged the rest of the council to support him.

It would still rankle that an honest mistake attracted a fine at all, but $12 was more acceptable, Mr Hornblow said.

The number of tickets waived by the council showed staff were lenient if people took time to write in with evidence they had paid for parking at a particular time, but for the wrong park, he said.

Hornblow said using fines money to repay the city's burgeoning debt was an excellent plan that helped pay for assets that would be enjoyed in future, and relieved the pressure to raise rates to pay interest on loans.

He said the next step should be to extend free parking times to attract people back into the city's retail heart. "We know that works, because on Sundays, the place is full. And perhaps we could use revenue from parking fines to cover the cost of free parking at other times."

Jefferies said the public perception that parking fines were just a revenue-gathering exercise was borne out when figures were released showing how much the council depended on the money to subsidise rates.

The financial implications of his proposal were significant, he said, but putting off doing something about it would not make the problem go away.

Jefferies said the final development that had spurred him on to propose action now was the revelation that a comprehensive parking management plan report had been deferred until next year. That would be more than a year since the council had received deputations protesting against the way parking rules were enforced.

He said many councillors were disappointed by the outcome of a parking working party that spent the first half of this year considering complaints.

When it reported back in June, it removed a temporary 10-minute grace period that had been offered at the end of paid parking time before infringements were issued. "We got a bad public reaction to that. It was pretty clear what people thought."

Jefferies said he had not canvassed fellow councillors for their support for his proposal, which would be raised at the council meeting on August 28.

Duncan McCann, who dispensed with his councillor exemption pass while on the working party, was bitterly disappointed the option of getting rid of the $40 fine was judged too costly.

He said Jefferies had left his support for the idea rather late.

"But good on him for speaking up now. It's something that needs to be done."

Mayor Jono Naylor said his deputy's proposal had merit, addressing one of the biggest complaints about parking, and provided time for "weaning" the council off dependence on fines income to pay day-to-day costs.

However, his support would depend on staff advice on whether savings could be found to enable the change to be made before Christmas.

Manawatu Standard