Parking fine increase affects students, businesses

Trent Mize returned to his black Ford Mustang after finishing his only class to find a bright yellow envelope placed in between the automobile’s windshield and its wiper on Monday.


Mize lifted the envelope off of the front of his car, smiling, knowing he was late returning to his vehicle parked in a downtown Athens parking space. The hour-long meter ran out and a $3 fine was levied.


No big deal, right?


“I think I’ll manage,” Mize, a sophomore pre-med major from Alpharetta said. “I’ve actually received plenty of tickets but it’s not a big deal since it’s only $3. It’s actually cheaper to receive a downtown ticket than to park in a parking deck on campus so I’m OK with it.”


Unfortunately for Mize, those days are soon to be over.


Last week, the Athens-Clarke County Commission voted to raise downtown parking ticket prices – but not by a small amount. Tickets costing $3 for parking at an expired meter will more than triple to $10. The fine for putting change into a meter after it’s expired will be $15 as opposed to the $5 ticket levied now.


Mize was unaware of the changes that will take effect on July 1.


“Wow, I guess I only have a couple months to get away with parking downtown for cheap,” he said, laughing. “I mean, $3 is fine, but $10 adds up a lot faster.”


Athens-Clarke County Commissioner David Lynn approved this decision, saying it might garner some attention for those who park downtown and receive $3 fine after $3 fine.


“This decision has absolutely nothing to do with making the county more money,” Lynn said. “But rather it has to do with parking demand. A lot of people are taking up downtown parking spaces, limiting spots for those coming to shop or dine. This change will hopefully prevent anyone from parking downtown for too long since they will no longer only expect a minor fine.”


Also, those seeking downtown parking in any of its 750 spaces will see a raise in meter fees, as parking time will be raised from 25 to 50 cents per hour.


Brett Smith, one of the managers at the downtown Athens restaurant Pita Pit, said he’s worried how this change will affect business.


“I’m worried that more people may want to park and eat elsewhere,” Smith said. “If customers now have to worry about a $10 fine and pay an extra quarter, especially in an economic time where everyone is hurting, then they may want to go to a competitor or try something else away from downtown where they don’t have to pay to park or worry about paying a lot in a fine.”


Enforcing meters will change too, as cars parked downtown face ticketing possibility from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. – a change from the original 6 p.m. cut-off.


Junior University of Georgia student Lou Woods, a finance major from Brunswick, said he’s in favor of the Athens-Clarke County’s decision to raise parking ticket prices.


“It’s not that big of a deal to me,” Woods said. “If you’re going to park downtown, just pay the meter and keep it fed whether it’s a quarter or 50 cents. If you pay the meter, then you won’t have to pay 10 bucks. I would rather find a space downtown and pay 50 cents an hour than have some chump park in a spot for four hours and receive a $3 fine.”


Already written on the Athens-Clarke County law books was that parking fines double after 30 days. Simple arithmetic shows this will be more costly with the higher fines. If someone lets a parking ticket slip through their memory, the fine will increase to $20 instead of just $6.


“It’s a shame, really,” Smith said. “I just hope it doesn’t affect business.”


While the Athens-Clarke County Commission hopes to eliminate people that don’t mind a cheap $3 fine from parking downtown, Mize said it won’t affect him for the short term. With a number of Mize’s classes on the University of Georgia’s north campus, he said it’s been a lot better to pay an occasional $3 fine downtown than a $40 fine from the university’s parking services.


“As long as the change hasn’t gone into affect I’ll probably still park downtown – at least until the end of the semester,” Mize said. “But after that, who knows if I will take that risk? The county might win on this one because I can handle a $3 ticket every now and then but a $10 fine? I’m not so sure about that.”


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