WILMINGTON—It’s happened to many of us, returning to our vehicle to see that little yellow reminder that we’ve pushed the meter too far. But what happens if you don’t pay your parking ticket?
The best bet is obviously to pay your ticket immediately or appeal it quickly. Appeals made within 20 days are heard by both Wilmington’s parking manager and Park Wilmington, the subcontractor hired to manage the city’s parking enforcement and management.
The city-owned parking decks are also patrolled, according to City Spokeswoman Malissa Talbert. Citations in the decks are “normally related to parking outside the striped lines, taking up two parking spaces, parking in a ‘no parking’ area, etc.,” Talbert said.
After 20 days parking tickets increase from $20 to $35, and the window to appeal closes.
Getting ‘the boot’
Park Wilmington will send two notifications by mail when a citation is past due. After that, the city can, in theory, pursue a civil suit to recover funds, but that’s unlikely. In at least one case, the city allowed a driver to rack up 13 outstanding and past due citations.
According to Talbert, the city’s goal is to receive payment for the original parking fines–not to pursue additional money. However, repeat offenders are very likely to be “booted.”
Officially, the city authorizes Park Wilmington to boot any vehicle with three or more outstanding citations that have been overdue for at least 90 days. These vehicles are “immobilized,” fitted with a device that theoretically prevents them from being driven.
When a vehicle is immobilized, Park Wilmington leaves information on how to get the boot removed. That involves paying all parking balances due, plus a $50 fee to remove the boot. There are ways to remove a boot from a vehicle, but it’s worth pointing out this is illegal; the city can and occasionally does press charges against those who remove a boot on their own.
If you haven’t paid your parking fines at this point, it’s possible you don’t have the money to afford them. So, what happens if you can’t afford your balance due to remove the boot?
After 24 hours, the vehicle is turned over to the city’s contracted towing company, which is currently Kirby’s Towing.
According to Talbert, the city is able to regulate and “cap” what kind of fees its subcontracted towing company can charge. That’s not to be confused with private parking lots, where the city cannot regulate towing charges; a 2014 North Carolina Supreme Court ruling struck down Chapel Hill’s ability to prevent what the city called “predatory towing.”
Still, despite city-enforced caps, things can get expensive. Kirby’s Towing can charge $100 for towing, and up to $150 if the vehicle is considered abandoned. The company can also issue several other charges, including $40 an hour for wait time and $35 for use of a dolly to move a vehicle. After the vehicle is towed, the company can charge $25 a day to store the vehicle.
The city also turns over the balance due to the towing company, according to Talbert. That means the sum total of your tickets, late fees, boot-removal costs, towing and storage fees are due before you can get your vehicle back–plus an additional $35 if you want to retrieve your vehicle outside of the towing company’s regular business hours. The towing company later remits the city’s share back to Wilmington.
A little forgiveness?
There’s little ability to appeal to a towing company; however, Talbert said that for repeat offenders there is some wiggle room with the city. City staff are authorized to adjust the amount owed for those with 10 or more delinquent citations. Talbert said in one case the city forgave nearly $350 in overdue fees.
“We’re not trying to drag people over the coals, we’re really just trying to get delinquent fines off the books,” Talbert said.
Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at firstname.lastname@example.org, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001