Smyrna Town Council members voted at the Dec. 2 council meeting to have the Public Safety Committee look into the current system used to give residents parking violations.
The motion was made following concerns brought up by Mayor Joanne Masten.
Masten said the previous Wednesday several residents were given tickets for parking along a street during the time the town's street sweeping is done. Signs are posted stating the day and time when there is no parking allowed.
Masten said the issue at hand is two-fold. First off, the day the tickets were given out it was raining and obviously the street sweeper isn't operated when it's raining. Secondly, Masten said the real issue is the cost of the tickets. The town ordinance says the fine is $10 when parking during a prohibited time, but police officers issued state tickets for $51.
Town lawyer Barrett Edwards said in 1987 the attorney general ruled that in a similar situation in Dewey Beach, the chief of police could direct officers to issue town fines versus the state and vice versa; however, orders are reviewable and reversible by council.
Police Chief Wil Bordley said up until a few years ago the fine for parking violations was based on town code; the fine is $10 if paid by a certain day, and $15 after. In 2010, the state changed the law for parking violations, making it a civil matter rather than a criminal violation. Bordley said the change made it so officers could no longer give warrants for unpaid parking tickets.
"So we could write a ticket today for Mr. Smith on North Street with no means of enforcing him to pay because we can't give a warrant for a civil charge," Bordley said. "It really took the teeth out of the town ordinance as far as parking tickets."
Bordley said the officers have been writing the town ordinance on a state summons so it gives officers the ability to issue a capias so if a resident doesn't pay the ticket, police can still arrest them and take them to court.
"You have to appear in court, get a $15 fine you must pay and the town recoups that but the state puts on fees on top of that, which brings the entire free to $51," he said.
Bordley said if council directs officers to only issue the town fine there will be no way for the town to recoup the fine.
Bordley said a solution other towns have used is putting a boot on a resident's car if several parking violations go unpaid. Bordley said council would need to change the town ordinance but using a boot may be the best way to get people to pay their parking tickets.
Councilman Valerie White said she's received the new fine for parking during a prohibited time on Commerce Street, something she's done when it's rained.
"As far as the boot, I think it should be three or four tickets and the boot goes on. I don't want to give seven or eight breaks," she said.
Ultimately, council passed a motion to send the topic to the Public Safety Committee for further discussion. As for the recent tickets given out, Bordley said the town doesn't have the authority to nullify the violations.
Email Jennifer Dailey at firstname.lastname@example.org.