Cities owed thousands in unpaid parking tickets; rental car companies top offenders

Some cities have hard time identifying owners

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Unpaid parking tickets are adding up for cities in South Florida and along the Treasure Coast. It's a lot of money and as the Contact 5 Investigators discovered, not every city is cashing in on your violation.

If you park where you're not supposed to in Palm Beach, she will find you.

"People call me Ms. Brown," Palm Beach Parking Enforcement Officer Loretta Brown said. She's seen, heard and been called it all.

Drivers in Palm Beach have racked up more than $500,000 in unpaid parking tickets. "Wow, I didn't know," Brown said. "That's a big number."

She just issues the ticket, the town has a history of collecting 90 percent of its violations. That's not the case everywhere.

The Contact 5 Investigators discovered a problem in one city that could be allowing hundreds of drivers off the hook. And in other cities, tickets are piling up and drivers aren't paying up.

In Port St. Lucie, volunteers are behind the wheel, patrolling for illegally parked vehicles. And offenders aren't always happy to see them.

"You just need to make money," one person said when he received a parking ticket from the Port St. Lucie parking volunteer. His ticket was for $260.

"That's a pretty steep fine," Terry Brumfield, a Port. St. Lucie parking enforcement volunteer said. "And I don't think he's going to get out of it. He's gonna have to pay for it."

But many people here aren't paying. The contact 5 Investigators went ticket by ticket adding it up. Unpaid fines for the past three years total more than $58,000 in Port St. Lucie alone.

The Port St. Lucie police chief said it is a lot of money. "It sounds like a great program for us to look into, collecting parking tickets," newly-appointed police chief, John Bolduc said.

It's the same case for the city of Riviera Beach where the Contact 5 Investigators combed  ticket by ticket to do the math.

"You're bringing this to our attention that we are owed $15,000, perhaps we can take a look at it," William Jiles a spokesperson with the city of Riviera Beach said.

If you think $15,000 sounds like a lot, think again. Drivers owe the city of West Palm Beach more than $700,000 and that's just in the last three years.

See how much cities in our area are owed in unpaid parking tickets by clicking here.

"We simply have more parking spaces, more cars and more drivers around here," Elliot Cohen, spokesperson for the city of West Palm Beach, said.

People are not paying for their violations even thought the city sends the unpaid ticket information to a collection agency.

"It's a tough process when someone gets a parking ticket," Cohen said. "They seem to think it's OK to throw it in the glove compartment and not pay for it."

The city also has a lot of people using rental cars. As hundreds of customers get in and out of the vehicles, the city says it's more difficult and takes more time to track down who was behind the wheel.

In fact, rental car companies are the city's biggest offenders.

"We try to do as much as we can to get as much as we can out of the rental car companies," Cohen said. "Unfortunately, we're sort of at their mercy. They're the ones who know who's in their car."

Farther south in Delray Beach, the Contact 5 Investigators didn't find rental car tickets piling up, but did find a lot of unpaid tickets, without any names connecting them to a driver.

"A lot of that would have to do with human error," Dawn Delaney, a city of Delray Beach administrator said.

In Delray, volunteers write the tickets by hand and later key them into a computer system

"An "S" could be mistaken for a "5" and an "I" could be misinterpreted for a "1," Delaney said.

Errors that are letting drivers off the hook and are costing the city more than $100,000. "You could consider that we're losing some or just that we're in the process of collecting it," Delaney said.

The city, which currently relies on volunteers, hopes to go digital soon to cut down on lost money. "Short of going out and knocking on doors and beating people up over it, we're doing everything that we can," Delaney said.

In Palm Beach, workers say you can't enforce the rules if you don't force people to pay up.

Many cities do send their unpaid parking tickets to collection agencies that'll charge you additional fees.  And even though you may have gotten out of a ticket on a citywide level - it could catch up with you when it comes to the state.

Unpaid parking tickets could prevent you from getting your car registration renewed when it expires.

Click here to see if you have any unpaid parking tickets.

For information and help using the searchable database, click here.

Investigative Producer Lynn Walsh contributed to this story.

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