I hope that last weekend’s Mountain High BBQ, hosted by the Franklin Chamber of Commerce did well. Economic times being what they are, any boost in revenue for the community is greatly appreciated.
Kathy from Myrtle Beach was more than glad to pay the $5 admission fee for an event that would cap a two-week business stay in the area. What she wasn’t prepared for was the $213 ticket issued for parking along the road adjacent to the Macon County Fairgrounds. The actual fee for the citation issued by a State Trooper was only $25. However, the special bonus feature of $188 for court costs is what she took issue with. And, here I thought that shipping and handling charges for products sold on TV were a scam.
Kathy doesn’t feign ignorance of the law, recognizing that there are forty-eleven “no parking” signs adjacent to that stretch of the 441 highway. Parking was obviously overflowing for the civic event and it’s human nature to think that if others are parking “illegally,” there was some kind of special dispensation for a special event. Perhaps, a less heavy-handed approach could have been applied, one that involved a pro-active method such as visibly stationing law enforcement vehicles to deter rather than punish after the fact.
In recent years, in the U.S. and abroad, there has been an escalating trend to jack up traffic and parking citations to make up for declining government revenue. Instead of public safety, padding government coffers has become a driving force for citing drivers.
Pendergrass, Georgia, a twosquare mile town, with less than 500 residents, has a history of topping the charts ticketing motorists. In 2006, the town took in $558,000 in ticket money. It was more revenue than local property taxes and more than enough to pay for the entire police department budget. Pendergrass’ police chief at the time was quoted as saying, “It’s just a function of our location.” Why does that sound like something a hunter might say about his deer stand?
Last year in Crosby, England, near Liverpool, traffic wardens collected the equivalent of $75,000 in parking fines on a 150-meter section of a side street. The road is adjacent to a charity shop and many of the fined were individuals dropping off items who ended up making a bigger donation to the government. Perhaps the adage of “charity begins at home” should be changed to “charity begins with your parked car.”
Accepting or offering a bribe is a criminal offense because it’s understood to corrupt the system. A judge or law enforcement officer should not make decisions based on monetary incentives. Yet, we have a conflict of interest when it comes to those issuing fines also receiving the money, albeit in a less direct fashion.
It’s not so much a matter of people being corrupt but rather a system that fosters corruption. Imagine if judges and cops directly received a commission on every fine that was collected. Would that promote public confidence? Would people become more or less willing to cooperate with the “law?”
There are alternatives to ticketing as a form of revenue creation. Instead of excessive fines, points issued against one’s insurance is a powerful incentive for motorists. Community service is the same time commitment whether you are unemployed or a millionaire. Citation money channeled toward the education system would remove a conflict of interest, unless of course school teachers started making citizen arrests en masse.
Kathy estimated that about 20 other vehicles were ticketed along with hers. If that is accurate, a cool and quick $4,000-plus was generated in a matter of minutes for our judicial system. I hope that the Chamber of Commerce did as well with their fundraiser, because they will need it to help repair our community image.
George Hasara is a regular contributing columnist for the Macon County News, as well as the owner and proprietor of the Rathskeller Coffee Haus & Pub, located at 58 Stwart Street in downtown Franklin.