Ticket and Run

Thousands of Miami-Dade drivers never pay fines for illegal parking. You too can get away with it.

As parking in the city gets more expensive, things may get even hotter for Hess, Borjas, and company. This week Miami started collecting a twenty percent surcharge on the estimated 56,000 parking spaces within the city limits. The only exceptions: residential property, meters on the street, the Port of Miami, and two lots at Miami International Airport.

The city estimates the tax will generate six to eight million dollars per year, which will be dedicated to reducing property taxes and building the city's cash reserves. Coconut Grove attorney Louis Terminello fears the tax may not produce the promised revenues. He predicts that many potential visitors will be put off by overpriced parking.

Women and men flirt with Albert Borjas to escape a fine
Steve Satterwhite
Women and men flirt with Albert Borjas to escape a fine

"If you make it so expensive that it is prohibitive, they are going to go to South Miami, Coral Gables, et cetera," Terminello opines. "Someone needs to find a balance in this area."

One way to raise money that would be far better than a new tax, Terminello and others suggest, is to collect more overdue parking fines. The city could raise up to one million dollars per year that way.

Clerk of the courts Harvey Ruvin may have at least a partial answer for Terminello. Although the former county commissioner and avid environmentalist can't overturn the city parking tax, Ruvin aims to improve collections. "There are a lot of dollars out there to be had at a time when dollars are scarce," he comments. The clerk describes the typical scofflaw attitude as "They don't have a hook on me so they can't touch me."

So this past spring Ruvin convinced state legislators to empower his office to hire private companies to badger ticket cheaters. Among their likely tactics: harassing phone calls at dinnertime, threatening letters, and maybe even a blemish on a credit report.

Under Ruvin's measure, if collectors become involved, drivers will pay a 40 percent premium on late parking fines and vehicle owners will get one warning letter. It will likely take effect soon, Ruvin says. Companies are expected to begin bidding for the contract by the end of 1999. It's still unclear whether more than one collection agency will be chosen.

Ruvin's office is powerless to cross state lines or national borders to enforce penalties for unpaid infractions, but the bill collectors would not be. Indeed tourists owe about one-fourth of the $25 million in unpaid fines. Ruvin is aware of Miami's fragile image with tourists, so he promises to go after scofflaws in "a sensitive and personal way."

In the future collection of parking fines could be become big business, Ruvin adds. As the county's population grows, the number of cars will increase and so will the number of outstanding citations. "We have had 600,000 people move to South Florida in recent years," says Ruvin. "And more are on their way."

RELATED STORIES by Jose Luis Jiménez

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