By Ross Markman
Attention, those who make it a habit to park on the wrong side of the street in Havre: Your City Council is looking to cut you a break.
In an effort to save the public money, the council may adopt an ordinance nullifying a state law that tacks a $20 surcharge onto parking citations issued to drivers parked on the wrong side of the road or facing the wrong way.
The council said Tuesday it would consider the ordinance, primarily because the additional $20 makes the fine excessive. The ordinance's first reading will be March 4 at 8 p.m.
According to City Judge Joyce Perszyk, the fine she typically levies for parking on the wrong side of the street is $10. Based on a state law enacted in 1996, the $20 surcharge is added $15 going into the city's prosecution fund, $5 going to the state for court automation fees. The original $10 fine goes into the city's general fund, she said.
If the council adopts the ordinance, all monies collected by the court would go to the city.
"We have some codes that need to be updated and reviewed. The city code on this must be changed to better reflect the offense. There's nothing worse than an expensive parking ticket to make everybody mad," Perszyk said.
"You have to have a penalty," she added. "(If the ordinance is adopted), it is up to the City Council members to spell it out."
Havre Police Chief Kevin Olson said most parking violations, including parking in front of a private driveway or within 15 feet of a fire hydrant, are already covered by city ordinance. These offenses have no state surcharge and typically cost the offender $10, he said.
The new ordinance would include parking on the wrong side of the road among those city offenses. A police officer would be able to write a ticket under city code, rather than under state law.
All moving violations fit under the state umbrella, and therefore include the surcharge, Olson added.
"It's not a severe problem," Olson said about cars parked on the wrong side of the street. "But even the mere fact of getting a ticket, the inconvenience is still there."
The city can't prevent the inconvenience, but council member Emily Mayer Lossing said it can so do something to lessen the penalty.
"We thought this would be a nice idea, a way of keeping the money in Havre instead of going to the state," Mayer Lossing said. "It's parking on the wrong side of road, for crying out loud. (It's not a big problem) unless you're doing it over and over again."
Added Havre Mayor Bob Rice, "What we're trying to do is make it easier on the people and give the judge a little latitude. As a city judge, she can charge what she wants."
If the ordinance is adopted, Perszyk said, the City Council could set the fine's minimum and maximum amounts, which are now $10 and $300.
"The city could decide a range for the fine. It could be anywhere from zero to $300." she said. "But I have no idea whether (the council) would change the minimum and maximum."
So what would stop the council from setting a minimum fine of $20, which without the state surcharge would still cost the offender less and make an additional $10 for the city in the process.
Council president Richard Pierson said the objective of changing the code is not to fill city coffers.
"I hate to say we're talking about building revenue for the city," Pierson said. "If somebody breaks this law, the revenue would go to the city, but we wouldn't be passing an ordinance for the purpose of building revenue."
"I don't think we're going to make much revenue off it. Not too many people do it," he said. "If we make $50 a year on it, I would probably speculate that's pretty good."