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The City of Milwaukee is owed $58.8 million in outstanding, unpaid parking citations.
The City of Milwaukee is owed $58.8 million in outstanding, unpaid parking citations.
These meters make paying and finding expired meters easier.
These meters make paying and finding expired meters easier.

Unpaid parking tickets total $60 million in Milwaukee

More than 124,540 City of Milwaukee parking tickets are unpaid -- accounting for almost $60 million in lost revenue. Hold up, $60 million? One more time. That's right. $60 million!

These numbers amazed me. I wasn't surprised by the volume of tickets (Lord knows I've received my share) but the massive  outstanding debt shocked and, frankly, disappointed me. If a business were to let accounts receivable get that high, trust me, there's a CFO or CEO out a job. But, this is government and, sadly, it is what it is.

But, I'm a solutions kinda guy. So, I went to the City and asked questions.

Below are my questions to Cecilia Gilbert, permit and communications manager for the Department of Public Works. Gilbert responded to these via e-mail.

Have solutions for Milwaukee's parking payment problems? Use the Talkback function. Want to check if you have an outstanding ticket? Click here.

OnMilwaukee.com:  How much is owed to the City for outstanding parking citations?

Cecilia Gilbert:  Approximately $58.8 million is owed to the City of Milwaukee for outstanding, unpaid parking citations from the past six years that have not been adjudicated in Municipal Court. Of that amount, $9.6 million of the $11.7 million in violations registered to out-of-state vehicles lack correct owner information. Violations for vehicles registered in Wisconsin with no correct owner information total $21.2 million.

OMC:  What is the City doing to try to collect the money owed?

CG:  Parking debt is unlike any other debt collected by the City. All non-parking obligations have verifiable names attached to them, whereas parking citations are issued to a vehicle, not to a person. Identification of the owner of the vehicle is based upon the license plate number, but ownership information is not always attainable.

A common problem results when vehicle owners sell their vehicles and fail to remove their plates, relying upon the buyer to do so. The seller might not obtain valid identification of the buyer or even a signed sales contract. If the seller cancels their plate but the buyer fails to register the vehicle, there is no known owner name and therefore no way to collect outstanding debt. Even when a seller does obtain information from a buyer, that buyer may resell the vehicle before registering it.

OMC:  What if there was an error?

CG:  If an error were made either in writing, reading or data-entry of a license plate on a citation, incorrect owner information would be provided to the City from the Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles, making collection efforts more difficult.

OMC:  Can you expand the methods being used to collect?

CG:  The City of Milwaukee utilizes a variety of methods to collect outstanding parking citations. A notice is sent to the last known registered vehicle owner 10 days and 28 days after issuance of a citation. When a hold is placed on a vehicle registration after 58 days, the state of Wisconsin sends another letter to the last known address from the DMV database.

People who fail to pay their parking citations in any municipality in Wisconsin are subject to having their registration withheld not only on the vehicle that was cited, but on any vehicle owned by that person. Therefore, there are many people who are unable to register any of their vehicles because they either cannot afford or refuse to pay their parking citations.

OMC:  What can the State do to help?

CG:  The State of Wisconsin passed legislation approximately three years ago that enables the City to tow any car that has been unregistered for more than one month whether or not it is in compliance with all other parking regulations. To retrieve the vehicle from the tow lot, one must show proof that the vehicle has been registered. For those vehicles that are registered but whose owners are scofflaws, i.e., those that have three or more unpaid citations older than 30 days, the City tows those vehicles. While required to pay the tow and storage fees but not the outstanding citations, a Summons and Complaint is served at the tow lot that mandates a court appearance.

After 80 days, an unpaid ticket officially goes into "secondary collections" and is given to a licensed collection agency to use all legal means by which to collect the outstanding debt including repeated calls and letters, skip-tracing for more recent addresses, tax refund interception, and credit bureau reporting,

The City's collection agency intercepts one's Wisconsin income tax refunds through the Tax Refund Intercept Program (TRIP). This obviously requires that the scofflaw both file and be due a refund that is adequate to pay all the debt. However, once certified, a person's name remains on the list for as many years as required to settle the debt owed. Since 2003, $13,530,000 has been collected through the tax intercept system.

OMC:  What's the total number of outstanding tickets?

CG:  There are 124,540 outstanding citations that are owed by vehicles bearing out-of-state licenses. Other than towing or credit bureau reporting, the City is limited in its capabilities to collect from these scofflaws.

Finally, some of the unpaid citations are issued to vehicles whose owners have since died, are incarcerated, are in bankruptcy, or who have moved out-of-state. The ability to collect any of these citations is greatly reduced.

OMC:  Any tips for us when we do get tickets?

CG:  When people are issued a parking citation, they may have their citation reviewed by the Citation Review Manager to determine whether the ticket is valid. To make an appointment with the review manager, one should call the number indicated on the citation: (414) 344-0840. Fine increases are suspended until the day after the meeting. Payment plans may be offered by the review manager that would allow someone to pay their parking obligations over time. People who do not agree with the decision of the Citation Review Manager may sign paperwork and go directly into Municipal Court in the same location, the Police Administration Building.

OMC:  Final thoughts?

CG:  The City of Milwaukee will continue to make every effort possible to find and require payment of those people issued parking citations. It is only fair to those persons who do make their payments as required by law.

Talkbacks

workout50 | Dec. 2, 2009 at 12:13 a.m. (report)

No mention of the terrible, not-user-friendly-at-all, "new" electronic parking meters?

Someone ought to lose their job because of the idiotic decision to implement these.

The machines are routinely out of paper, so you can't get a receipt (which is a necessity for businesspeople who itemize expenses or have to justify costs to their accounting departments). I'm not a lawyer -- but if you can't get a receipt, isn't there an assumption that a legal transaction hasn't actually occurred?

In cold weather, the meter screens often fog up or misfunction.

And don't get me started about how bass-ackwards the complete system is -- when it relies on a parker memorizing a code and walking to a limited number of kiosks to pay the fee. Often there is a line, so parkers have to wait to pay (and this can be especially grueling and frustrating in winter weather). I would imagine it's not uncommon that parkers forget their codes or enter them incorrectly. And -- how much of workers' time and productivity do we lose when we make parkers and customers take such extra measures and time just to park their vehicles?

The decision to implement these crappy machines was hostile to the business climate in the city. If anyone starts to wonder why we can't re-create a bustling, active downtown, the answer is obvious: We make it hard and inconvenient for people to park.

So, if the city parking division wants us to actually care about the fees that have gone uncollected, that must fall on deaf ears. Their own poor decisions have lowered the standard of service for city parking -- so why should any citizen be in a rush to fork over money to support such a failed system?

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screamin | Dec. 1, 2009 at 9:04 p.m. (report)

To more_cowbell:
Where in the hell is there free parking in Chicago? I work there, and pay $3.50/hour (meter), or $28/work day in a structure. You post is SOOO inaccurate it's a joke.
And digidivaish:
Bitching about writing a check and mailing it? Your kidding, right?
To the rest:
Paying to park is here, deal with it.
At least there are spaces to park.
When I lived in Chicago, I sold my car due to parking per month cost more than my rent. It could be worse here, be happy...

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more_cowbell | Dec. 1, 2009 at 1:00 p.m. (report)

Its absurd to think that we should be forced to pay for parking in major urban city center. Just look at the example of Chicago or New York s where free or reasonable parking is amply available. I mean the cost to park a car downtown Milwaukee is easily double or tripe the cost to park in downtown Chicago. Lets get it together Milwaukee and get our parking situation more in line with Chicago and New York's.

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digidivaish | Dec. 1, 2009 at 12:27 p.m. (report)

There definitely should be more free parking downtown as it's very difficult and annoying to have to deal with meters when you don't know how long you have to be in a business.

More importantly, they should make it easier to pay the ticket. It's a pain to remember to write the check, find a stamp then a mailbox. I'm not saying it's not doable, but online payment is easier. If they removed the silly $2 charge from online pay they would probably get a higher percentage of paid tickets going forward. At least they'd be paid faster with less manual effort from the city to reconcile tickets to cleared checks.

If I parked wrong fine, but don't make it a pain or more expensive to give you money.

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jakkalope | Dec. 1, 2009 at 12:03 p.m. (report)

35403 It's garbage and unfair because you can't read the parking signs. It's not too difficult. Park where you're supposed to, when you're supposed and you won't get a ticket. It's really that simple.

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