By NATHAN GREGORY
If Starkville Aldermen approved downtown parking fine increases effective immediately, there would have been one problem, Police Chief David Lindley said at the board’s Tuesday meeting.
The people tasked with writing parking tickets wouldn’t be able to write any more of them until they got new ones.
The board ultimately decided 5-1 in favor of amending the motion to wait until June 1 to increase fines for breaking parking laws. The board voted in January to hire a part-time officer to enforce the laws through May 31, at which point it could review the enforcement’s effectiveness and then decide whether to continue enforcement. Starkville Police Department began issuing tickets Tuesday.
Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins was the only dissenting vote. Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey was absent from the meeting.
According to Starkville Police Chief David Lindley, the city police department spent $1,000 last October to purchase the tickets that had the current fine amounts on the face of them in anticipation of the board re-implementing downtown parking enforcement. The tickets have a sheet of carbon that transfers to an envelope approved by the United States Postal Service where violators can pay their tickets via mail.
Changing the fines would be problematic, he said, because it would take six to eight weeks to order new tickets with the increased fine amounts and would cost the department more money. Until the new tickets came in, he said, officers would be unable to issue any more fines.
“This is a very particular piece of gear. If the board chooses to change the fine, the (initial) fine fee is printed on the front of this ticket. I have no tickets to issue to the parking enforcement officer,” Lindley said. “There was no discussion last summer about these fines going up. If you invalidate this ticket … you’ve just given me a vital tool that I need and you’re going to take it away from me … (You’re) keeping us from writing tickets and asking us to write tickets at the same time.”
Ward 3 Alderman Eric Parker — who made the motion to amend the time at which the fines would increase — and Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver spoke in support of Lindley.
“More than the waste of the $1,000 is going to be the predicament you put your officers in,” Carver said.
Perkins said the police department should find an alternative means of still being able to give tickets with the revised amounts.
“The cat can be skinned,” Perkins said. “I appreciate what (Lindley) is doing … I know it’s going to take some work (to have tickets with the revised fine amounts made, but) I want it to go in effect immediately. I feel that this could be worked out. I’m still not convinced that we can’t make it happen. I think we have to have a strong deterrent.”
If the board chooses to go forward with enforcing downtown parking laws after the trial period ends, two-hour parking violation fees will increase from $10 to $25. Fines for parking opposing traffic or in a no-parking zone will increase from $20 to $40. Blocking a fire plug or parking in a fire lane will be assessed a $100 fine instead of $50. Improper parking in a handicapped zone will result in a $200 fine.
In other business, the board overrode Mayor Parker Wiseman’s veto of raising the salaries of the mayor and aldermen by a 5-1 vote. Carver was the only alderman opposed. Effective Oct. 1, 2014, the mayor’s salary will increase from $60,000 to $71,500. Aldermen will receive $15,000 per year — $3,000 more than they are currently paid annually.
Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk moved to override the veto, noting Wiseman argued that raises for elected officials should be delayed until all other city salaries were addressed.
“The board, in (its) vote, was very mindful of the fact that wages of our employees are not where they need to be. We are addressing that currently with the work we’re doing with the (John C.) Stennis Institute (of Government) and coming up with a transition plan for addressing that,” Sistrunk said. “That’s one of the reasons we delayed the effective date of this increase for the board and the mayor’s salary until Fiscal Year (20)15. It allows us to begin to address the employee salaries.
“I think it’s important to understand that all of us sitting up here very much recognize and believe in the public service component of what we do,” she added. “However, these are also jobs … If you’re going to get the people that you want to have sitting in these positions, we have to pay these positions … We’re trying to cast a broader net for people who might be interested in these jobs in the future.”
Carver said the increase doesn’t make a significant difference.
“I don’t think you’re going to get better employees or brighter people for another $3,000 a year. I think this job does not get paid enough, no matter what the salary is,” Carver said. “I don’t think for $15,000 you’re going to get a better group.”