Nelson council voted Monday to send a notice to anyone in the area with unpaid $50 parking meter fines, offering an amnesty of $15 if paid before Jan. 19.
The move is an attempt to get old fines off the system as the city switches to new parking software and enforcement system.
Councillor Rik Logtenberg said he sees the parking amnesty as revenue recovery.
“But there is a moral hazard for offering an amnesty,” he said. “People might say, well, I will wait until the next amnesty. But we are not saying you don’t have to pay your tickets. We are recognizing that for many people it either blew off their windshield or they forgot about it.
“Sometimes you have to experiment with these things. For some people it will inspire them to go and see if they have an expired ticket.”
The plan presented by management staff was that $5 of the $15 would go to a charity.
But, led by Logtenberg and councillor Brittny Anderson, council decided instead that the $5 would go toward the city’s active transportation plan.
Active transportation, a term often used by governments, actually means walking and biking, and creating infrastructure that encourages those ways of getting around the city. (It also often includes streets and sidewalks that are wheelchair friendly.)
“If more people are using different means of transit rather than cars there might actually be more parking in town,” Anderson said.
Mayor John Dooley and finance manager Colin McClure said that contributing to a charity — Dooley used the Salvation Army as an example — would provide an incentive appropriate to the season.
Logtenberg said a walking and biking fund would also be motivating for many people. “They would be investing in a future for the city, a better transportation system,” he said.
Dooley cautioned that people might see it as paying into something the city already might have a budget for. McClure said there is no actual separate fund for encouraging walking and biking, and how to fund these things would be discussed at the upcoming spring budget meetings.
McClure told the Star after the meeting that coins from parking meters bring the city about $1 million per year, which goes toward streets, sidewalks and other road infrastructure.
He said the city will not be sending amnesty letters to people who live outside the West Kootenay and that many people have multiple parking fines. The result is that the city will send out about 5,500 letters.
Fines incurred by people outside the region will be deleted and not carried over to the new system.
The fines of West Kootenay people who do not apply for the amnesty will be referred to a collection agency. The new software, McClure said, will automatically generate warning letters to drivers at every stage followed by collection agent referrals.
McClure said the city has no authority to prevent owners from renewing their driver’s license, vehicle licence or insurance for non-payment of fines.
He said many municipalities, most recently Whistler, have lobbied the provincial government to enact legislation allowing a community to link parking ticket payments to license renewal, so far with no success.
At Monday’s meeting, councillor Cal Renwick, the only councillor who voted against the motion (councillor Janice Morrison was absent), said the design of the city website makes it hard to pay parking tickets.
McClure said there is a page on the website for paying anything owed to the city including property taxes, but Renwick said there should be a separate traffic ticket payment button on the home page.