Wednesday, May 16, 2018

To Boot or Not to Boot

Last night's Common Council meeting was much tamer than last week's informal meeting. The Council decided not to vote on the resolution to override the mayor's veto of the aldermen's request for their own attorney, instead accepting the judgment that, according to Section 201 of New York Consolidated Law, Second Class Cities, "The corporation counsel shall be and act as the legal adviser of the common council and of the several officers, boards and departments of the city." The slate of appointees to the Tourism Board--Jeff Hunt, David Brown, Ellen Thurston, and Jamie Smith Quinn--was unanimously accepted. The resolution to increase the fee for removing a boot installed on cars with three unpaid parking tickets, however, did not fare as well.

Because the request for the increase had originated with the Hudson Police Department, Chief Ed Moore had been asked to appear at the meeting to provide some background. He explained that the law making booting the penalty for unpaid parking tickets had been enacted in May 2011. In March 2016, the practice of booting was suspended by Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton because some cars that were booted ended up also getting towed because the overdue parking fines, which had to be paid before the boot could be removed, could not be paid on the weekend.

So, for the past two years, cars have not been booted, and people have been racking up fines that go unpaid. Moore said there were literally hundreds of outstanding tickets, and the City has lost revenue, because people think if they don't pay their fines, there will be no consequences. Because people can now pay their outstanding tickets at the police station, which is open every day, 24 hours a day, Moore thought it was time to bring back the boot, but the towing companies that install and remove the boots wanted more money to come back into Hudson to perform this service. When the practice was initiated in 2011, the fee was $110; now they want $150. Moore pointed out this was the going rate and what was charged in Kingston and Albany.

At the outset, Council president Tom DePietro told the aldermen that the resolution before them was about raising the fine for removing the boot; it was not about booting or not booting. Still, it seemed to end up being about booting. Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) worried that people wouldn't be able to afford $40 more to have the boot removed. When Moore said $150 was charged in Kingston and Albany, Garriga had protested that they were bigger cities. Rich Volo (Fourth Ward) opined that there should be an alternative to booting. Rob Bujan (First Ward) said he was researching the alternatives and suggested perhaps preventing people from renewing the registration on their cars if they don't pay their tickets. Moore warned, "That comes with a price." It wasn't clear what he meant, but if the idea is to motivate people to pay their parking fines before they amass huge numbers of tickets and accumulate astronomical fines, threatening to prevent them from doing something they only do every two years doesn't seem to be a very effective approach. 

In the end, every alderman voted against raising the boot removal fee. A resolution to raise the fine for a parking meter violation from $8 to $10, passed 7 to 3, with Garriga, Kamal Johnson (First Ward), and Calvin Lewis (Third Ward) dissenting.

The question of the boot reminds me of the bad old days in Hudson, a dozen or so years ago, when nonpayment of parking tickets could result in a criminal summons, and offenders were taken from their homes and marched in handcuffs to the police station.  


  1. I'm confused by the decision not to resume booting (or, at least, not to agree to pay the market rate for the service). What is the rationale for broadcasting to the entire city that no one need pay their parking tickets? How irresponsible is the Council? The City budgets in excess of $200k of annual revenues from parking fines and fees: how does the Council propose to plug the gap they've now created? They may as well lay off the ticket writers (meter maids, whatever they're called) while they're at it: these employees have been rendered completely superfluous.

    1. The think the worry on the aldermen's part was that people with a number of unpaid tickets would be scrambling to come up with the money to pay them off before the boot policy went into effect. It would probably be sensible to introduce an amnesty period to get scofflaws on a reasonable payment plan before executing the policy change; not sure how the system would handle it. Once the car gets booted, towing and storage fees in combination with the unpaid tickets can present an insurmountable challenge to people struggling to pay bills.

      As to the issue of the fee increase, it seems reasonable, but if the Common Council wants to actively explore alternatives for a month, I say here's to due diligence.

  2. I'm confused about something else: it says on the Parking Bureau's webpage: "Payments are no longer accepted at the Hudson Police Station." Is it time to update the page, or see if the Chief has it wrong?
    And, shouldn't it be up to the parking bureau to decide if the boots should return --- they are the ones dealing with the paperwork and headaches of getting those who have been booted all straightened out. It is not a simple process for either party to get a boot removed.

  3. Regarding Mr. Bujan's idea about denying car re-registration, I wonder if the city really as the power to deny re-registration due to unpaid fines. Car registration is a state function. If the city lacks that power, or the use of some other reasonable sanction, I would hope that this issue is revisited. If failing to pay fines has no effective sanction (suing to get a judgement and then levying on assets would make no economic or other sense), then as Mr. Friedman suggests, one might anticipate the failure to pay the fines would became a more common occurrence. That would not be a good policy outcome.