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ST. PETE BEACH — City commissioners voted to upgrade several of St. Pete Beach’s parking ordinances, allowing parking enforcement officers, and towing companies hired by the city, to boot tires or remove vehicles of scofflaws who accumulate large debts of unpaid parking tickets or others who violate certain regulations.

Under changes to the ordinance, adopted on first reading, the city will also contract with a collection agency to try and recoup more than $300,000 in fines unpaid after 180 days.

On Oct. 13, City Transportation and Parking Director Michelle Gonzalez told commissioners her staff has been working since April to redesign and upgrade the city’s parking ordinance.

“In prior years, updates to the parking ordinance were made periodically to address specific sections or issues on an as-needed basis,” she told commissioners “The goal of this parking ordinance update was to review the existing ordinance as a whole, and determine sections of the code which had conflicting or redundant language, (or) that were no longer applicable due to changes made within the city.”

A new provision makes it illegal to park a vehicle on any city street or right-of way to sell it or use it for display advertising. Parking to store or junk it, or to use it for storage for more than 24 hours, is also prohibited.

In addition, a vehicle cannot be parked in a city-owned or operated parking lot or other city property overnight between midnight and 6 a.m. The city manager may waive this prohibition on a temporary basis where it is determined that such waiver is necessary. Vehicles parked overnight may be ticketed, every two hours. Under changes to parking regulations, no vehicle can be parked on any city street or right-of-way for longer than 72 hours, as long as it is not registered to an address immediately adjacent to the location where it is parked.

The updated ordinance also prohibits vehicles from being parked within 10 feet of a mailbox between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., except Sundays and holidays, unless such vehicle is registered to an address immediately adjacent to the location. A vehicle can also not be parked in a manner which blocks access to a commercial or residential dumpster.

Parking of boats, trailers, campers, recreational vehicles, commercial vehicles and trucks in excess of one-ton cab weight is now prohibited on any rights-of-way between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m.

Under the changes, the city will maintain its metered parking rate at $3.25 an hour and establish a flat daily rate for boat trailer parking of $15 a day for 5 hours.

Parking fines have been greatly reduced to be in compliance with state statutes. For example, overtime park fines have been reduced from $50 to $25, improper parking fines shrunk from $50 to $30, and double parking fines were lowered from $60 to $30. The penalty to remain in a no-parking zone has been decreased from $50 to $30, along with fines for leaving the motor running while unattended, or leaving keys in the ignition. The fine for parking in front of a fire hydrant has been reduced from $100 to $30. Unpaid fines will increase after 30 days rather than 15. Fines can be levied every two hours a vehicle is illegally parked.

“The city has made substantial efforts to ensure that persons who violate the city's parking regulations pay their fines and those efforts have generally been successful. However, there remains a significant number of persons who refuse to pay their fines while generally accruing additional violations,” the ordinance states.

The city plans to get tough with motorists who ignore paying parking tickets. Under the new regulation, an immobilization device can be attached to a vehicle if there is “one outstanding and overdue parking violation notice for parking in a space designated for disabled parking, or if there are three or more overdue parking citations issued to the vehicle, or other vehicles owned by the same person, and for which no hearing has been requested.” The city will contract with a towing company to boot vehicles that are improperly parked.

“An immobilization device may be attached to the vehicle if the registered owner of the vehicle has failed or refused to pay civil fines and penalties, (and) if it is parked in a right-of-way or other city property, such as a city parking lot or parking garage, “ the ordinance states.

According to the ordinance, after an immobilization device is attached to a vehicle, a notice shall be placed in the windshield or to the left front window cautioning the operator not to attempt to operate the vehicle or to attempt to remove the immobilization device. If an immobilized vehicle is towed and impounded, the owner or operator shall pay the cost of towing and impounding prior to the release of the vehicle, in addition to the fines and charges for which the vehicle was immobilized.

Gonzalez told commissioners the city has over $300,000 in unpaid parking fines, so the revised ordinance allows the city manager to implement an amnesty program to incentivize payment of outstanding tickets; the city will also contract with a collection agency to get more violators to pay outstanding tickets that exceed 180 days.

Mayor Al Johnson said the fines are not implemented by the city to make money but rather to make sure people comply with parking regulations. Gonzalez said there will be more enforcement of the regulations by additional staff and contracted towing companies.