Right now, the city of Macon is reporting tens of thousands of dollars in uncollected parking fines. Our 13 Investigates team discovered in hundreds of cases, the city doesn't even know how much is owed, or who has paid.
Stanley Hunnicutt works with parking enforcement.
"The only thing I'm authorized to look for is two-hour parking. That's all I do," he says. Before the city installed new parking meters downtown this year, Hunnicutt had a lot more area to patrol. The entire city had free parking with a two-hour limit. But as we rode along in his enforcement cart, he told us, "First Street is my boundary. All that way is metered," as he points toward Mulberry Street and the courthouse and toward the main business and restaurant area.
Park too long in a two-hour spot, and you get a ticket. Your next stop is Municipal Court.
"When they first get it, it's $10, and if they don't pay it in 20 days, on the 21st day, it goes up to $30," says LaTonya Slaughter. She's the Municipal Court Clerk. That office collected all of the parking fines under the old system.
When we asked for information on uncollected fines from the past 5 years, here's what we found:
That adds up to more than $66,000 over five years, but when we started digging a little deeper, it turns out the city isn't really sure how much is owed. You see, in April of 2017 Municipal Court updated to a brand new ticket tracking system. Now if you've ever gotten a new cell phone or laptop, you know that sometimes when you transfer your contacts, apps, and files, they go right over. But sometimes they end up scrambled. In the case of the Macon-Bibb Municipal Court, the parking ticket data got corrupted. So the numbers from the city in the chart above are not considered accurate by the city.
Slaughter summed up the impact by saying, "It's just losing that data and the accuracy of the data in order to be able to pinpoint exactly what is owed."
The bottom line is whether it's past due parking, illegal parking in disabled spots or fire lanes, or some other violation, if it happened before April 2017, the city isn't really sure who paid or didn't pay, or even exactly how much is owed. Slaughter says the new computer system is much better, and now an outside company handles the new metered parking.
Alex Morrison with the Macon-Bibb Urban Development Authority helped oversee the creation of the new metered system. He says, "Having a company like Lanier manage that system on behalf of the government means that there's that professional management that goes into it, that someone's entire job is to make sure that the system is working appropriate."
He says it's too early to tell how the company is doing with fine collections, but he says he is seeing a change in behavior downtown.
"What we're seeing now is far more compliance with things like loading zones, time of parking, moving violations, reverse angle parking," Morrison adds.
As for the uncollected money, their only hope now is that you just do the right thing, or as Slaughter puts it, "We just rely on the goodness of their heart to come in and handle their business with the court as far as their parking fines are concerned."
In the end, the city views any fines lost in the computer change as part of the cost of switching to a new system that they say is much more efficient going forward.