Bloomington now wants parking tickets paid before towed cars get returned, residential neighborhood permit failure now subject to fine

People who park their cars in the city of Bloomington can now accumulate two extra unpaid parking tickets before their car gets towed.

But the increase in the towing threshold, from four to six unpaid citations, comes with a tradeoff.

The ordinance requires the car owner to pay off all the unpaid tickets in order to get their car back. The new local law was approved on a unanimous vote by the city council at its regular Wednesday session.

As part of the ordinance, the part of city code covering residential neighborhood parking permits also got some tweaks.

The ordinance adds a $100 fine for using a residential neighborhood parking permit in an unauthorized manner, and a $20 fine for not properly displaying a neighborhood parking permit when parked in a residential neighborhood zone.

The ordinance also allows a residential neighborhood parking permit holder whose permit is stolen to get a replacement at no charge, if they report the theft of the permit to the police.

It was the towing aspect of the new ordinance that drew most of the city council’s attention.

Councilmembers were concerned about situations where someone who has more than six unpaid parking tickets, is not in a position to pay them. That might set up a scenario where someone could not afford to get their car back, when they need their car in order to get to work or otherwise earn their livelihood.

Councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith said the possibility of that scenario reminded her of debtors prisons.

Parking services director Michelle Wahl sketched out a couple of different strategies for not putting people in an unreasonable predicament. One was to delay turning the account over to the city’s collections agency to allow for a payment plan to be adopted, before the person’s car gets towed.

A second option, after the car is towed, would include committing to a payment plan with the city’s collections agency, which is Capital Recovery Systems.

Councilmember Matt Flaherty said he was somewhat uncomfortable with allowing the circumstances to depend on the administration’s discretion, but allowed it could be awkward to codify the accommodations that need to be made.

During a council committee meeting a week ago, Wahl gave the reason for the proposed change to the city’s code. Currently, she said, for a car owner to recover their vehicle, they have to pay the towing company’s fees, but they do not have to pay any of the parking citations.

That’s problematic, Wahl said, because the person will go back and park in the same place, and the tickets start to accumulate.

At last week’s city council committee meeting, Wahl said since January of 2020, there are about 180 violators that have six or more parking citations. They live in 41 different states, and account for 1,957 citations totaling about $48,000, according to Wahl.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Wahl told the council there are 17,197 people from whom Capital Recovery Systems is trying to recover payment for 39,997 citations, totaling $1.5 million.

Since 2012, 23,652 citations have been paid in full for a total of $1.2 million, Wahl reported.

During that period, Capital Recovery Systems has been paid $289,780—the collection fee is 30 percent  added to each citation.

The bit of the ordinance that involves residential neighborhood parking permits did not generate a lot of discussion from councilmembers.

Residential neighborhood on-street parking zones near the Indiana University campus were first established in 1992 and have subsequently been revised.

The residential neighborhood on-street parking zones were established in response to the use of city streets by commuters for parking. The first “whereas” clause from the 1992 ordinance reads: “Several city streets in neighborhoods adjacent to the Indiana University campus experience severe hardship from non-residents who park there during weekdays;”

During public comment, Dave Warren pointed out that such permits are available only to occupants of single-family detached houses, not duplexes.

Assistant city attorney Barbara McKinney responded to a question from The Square Beacon confirming that her interpretation of Bloomington city code is that occupants of duplexes are not eligible for such parking permits.

15.37.040 – Eligibility.
Each resident of a single household detached dwelling in a neighborhood zone defined in Bloomington Municipal Code Section 15.37.020 shall be entitled to apply for one residential neighborhood zone parking permit.

Councilmember Steve Volan reacted to Warren’s comment by saying that he thinks the restriction of residential neighborhood parking permits to occupants of single-family houses is not appropriate for all neighborhoods.

Volan said, “This is simply inappropriate for neighborhoods where people live in buildings other than single-family houses. We need to take some time to explore what it would take to make street parking equitable for everybody.”