SPECIAL REPORT: Time's Up

By: Hannah Saunders Email
By: Hannah Saunders Email

"It's kind of a shock to receive this."

A few months ago, Jessica Malcolm found an unwelcome envelope from the City of East Lansing in her mailbox: "It was a letter that said, that I had outstanding parking tickets, and that if I didn't pay them immediately, then I wouldn't be able to renew my driver's license."

That letter was just the first. Soon after, she got another, and another; one for each of her four tickets she got years ago. The most recent was from 2006. "I didn't even realize I had tickets," and if she didn't pay soon, they threatened not only to suspend her license, but possibly put her in jail.

So we investigated why these letters were turning up now, in hundreds of mailboxes like Jessica's, and talked first to Chief Judge of the 54B District Court Richard Ball.

"If one accumulates more than three unpaid parking tickets, then a hold will be placed on their driver's license renewal."

That's according to a new public act, made law last May. It changed the statewide limit of unpaid tickets from six to three; designed to generate revenue for cities with a lot of unpaid tickets, like East Lansing.

City Manager George Lahanas says, it gave the City a surge in payments as soon as the letters were sent out: "It made people have a glut in activity when the law was first passed."

But, a strange twist; there are now more unpaid parking tickets than there were before the six ticket limit was lowered to three. 74,417 back in May, and 79,477 now.

"For us, it's a slightly surprising result...people got these letters, and knew they had to pay parking tickets, and they came and paid them, so it's probably just made a one time bump in activity," said Lahanas.

But many in East Lansing don't understand why the City needs the extra cash:

"I definitely think it's a scam, that they're just trying to get the most money out of it they can."

"I think they give out tickets and it's a way of making money."

"You kind of draw a line somewhere and I think they go over it."

So Lahanas has pulled the City's financial records for us, to show, even with all the money they pull in from these parking violations,the City only breaks even.

"We invest our time and a lot of our resources into a parking system, continued Lahanas.

The records show about $4 million a year goes to the parking structures and the parking enforcement division. About $4 million more comes back in ticket payments, although, that tips higher and lower from year to year.

This year, the City will make a profit of about $84,000, but Lahanas says that's just pocket change to any city. Besides, he says half the years, they come out losing that much.

Which is part of the reason Judge Ball will continue to be very strict with all parking ticket appeals, "Eventually we'll catch you."

Just like he's caught Jessica.

"I'm gonna pay them. I've started paying them off."

She's agreed to start paying back the $500 she owes; careful not to lose track again.


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