Chief: New fines needed

Published 12:39 am Monday, August 24, 2009

By By Kerry Whipple Bean

Bill Jernigan knows the frustration of finding a handicapped parking space — but then being unable to get in or out of his vehicle because someone has parked in the striped area not designated for parking.
The frustration of individuals like Jernigan is what led Police Chief Monte McGougin to seek higher fines for traffic violations such as illegally parking in a handicapped space, McGougin said.
The city council has tabled the idea but is expected to consider the proposal again Tuesday. McGougin said he would also like the fines to be designated for a special police department fund for equipment and other special projects. Only the fines paid by violators who do not contest the fines would go to that fund, he said; other fines would be paid to the court system.
McGougin admitted that he and his officers rarely ticket drivers who park illegally, ether in handicapped spaces or in other illegal areas.
The proposed ordinance would raise the fine to $75. The current fine for parking in a handicapped space is $15.
A survey of nearby cities shows that many have similarly low fines — and many also do not enforce their ordinances, clerks said.
Monroeville has a $50 fine for parking in a fire lane and $5 fines for other traffic violations. Atmore has a $5 fine across the board for all traffic violations.
Greenville has a $50 fine for parking in a handicapped zone and $5 fines for other traffic violations, and officials there said those fines are enforced.
The City of East Brewton has a blanket $250 fine for traffic violations, clerk Brande Agerton said.
The Brewton proposal would raise the fine for other traffic violations — parking in a fire zone, parking near a fire hydrant, parking in prohibited parking, blocking the sidewalk, parking in a restricted area and blocking traffic — to $25. The current fine for those violations is $5.
At the Aug. 11 council meeting, Councilman Joe Watson questioned the fines for other traffic violations.
Watson said he agreed that the handicapped parking fines should be increased, but he was concerned about how the rest of the ordinance would be enforced.
McGougin said the ordinance already allows officers to ticket for traffic violations; the revision simply raises the fines.
And he said the police department would use discretion; for example, officers were not going to ticket drivers who park on the sidewalk during Sunday morning church services, McGougin said.
Jernigan said he hopes the city will pass the new fines, although he knows that some people will continue to use handicapped tags even when they don’t need them.
Lydia Grimes contributed to this report.

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