Parking fine reductions part of proposed Detroit 'human rights' legislation

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

The city's steep parking tickets could be slashed and an early payment discount reinstated under a proposal being introduced by Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield.

Sheffield on Friday said she plans to introduce an amendment to the city's parking fines in the coming weeks as part of a legislative package coined the People's Bills that also will cover water affordability, poverty tax exemptions and other human rights issues.

Detroit's steep parking tickets could be slashed and an early payment discount reinstated under a proposal being introduced by Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield.

Details of the legislation, Sheffield said aims to address some of the most "pressing socioeconomic and human rights issues" facing Detroiters, are set to be unveiled during a Monday press conference in front of the Spirit of Detroit Statue at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center.

“When I was elected to the Detroit City Council, I promised to offer a more open, transparent and representative form of government to Detroiters,” Sheffield said. “The introduction of the People’s Bills is the direct result of that promise and my attempt to give the people a voice in the public policy process and create a climate in Detroit by which all Detroiters have the opportunity to prosper and improve their quality of life.”

Sheffield said her amendment to the city's parking parking ordinance that would lower tickets from $45 to $30 for expired meters and no parking violations, she said. The 10-day grace period that reduces fines by 50 percent would also be reinstated.

The parking fine hikes were previously approved by former emergency manager Kevyn Orr as a revenue generator for the city during its bankruptcy.

Mayor Mike Duggan's administration is already raising issue with Sheffield's plan on claims it would result in the loss of $2 million annually from the post-bankrupt city's budget. 

Alexis Wiley, Duggan's chief of staff, said the proposed plan provides no explanation on how the city would replace the $2 million that would be lost if the fines were reduced. 

Detroit, which recently was released from strict financial oversight put in place as a condition of its bankruptcy exit, is required to have a balanced budget, she noted. 

“That’s the kind of decision making that got us into emergency management in the first place,” Wiley said. “You’ve got to find a way to replace it. It’s a requirement to have a balanced budget. I think there are serious questions that should be asked whether this drives us back to where we once were."

The City Council voted to revise Detroit's parking ordinance in July 2015. The move established varying zones and a "pay-by-plate" parking system throughout the city, most with steeper rates.

After implementing the new system, the city generated $12.5 million in the 2016 fiscal year and $12.8 million in the 2017 fiscal year, the administration said.  

The fine changes approved by Orr increased tickets from $30, $50 and $80 to $45, $65 and $95, respectively, for parking violations and late fees. A $10 rate for early payment was also eliminated.

The move sparked a class-action lawsuit late last year with plaintiffs calling the higher parking fines unconstitutional.

Sheffield said she'll be proposing an early-payment discount, which would reduce a $30 fine to $15 for payments made within 10 days. Late-payment penalties would drop from $65 to $50 after 30 days, and $95 to $80 after 60 days, she said. 

Sheffield said the cost of parking and the associated fines for expired meters are barriers, especially for low-income residents doing business downtown. 

“Parking fines were increased under pretenses and conditions that no longer exist. I believe it’s our duty to ensure that a measure that’s effecting the public is a result of an open and transparent process," Sheffield said. "We need to create an environment in downtown Detroit where all are welcome. I think reducing the parking fines is one aspect of making downtown Detroit inclusive.”

Wiley said it's not the city leadership’s job to bring people downtown, but to make sure that Detroit has the ability to provide for people throughout our city, including those living in the neighborhoods.

“If council were to vote on this tomorrow to cut revenue by $2 million it would blow up the four-year budget because the four-year budget assumes that $2 million in revenue,” Wiley said. “So basically, the budget would no longer be balanced. One of the things that got us out of financial oversight was the fact that we had three years of consecutive balanced budgets.”

Sheffield said she's willing to have discussions with the city’s chief financial officer. She said that the money from parking fines was previously going to pay bonds that are no longer in place.

"I don’t know if it’s really about making up the difference. It's money that was dedicated to bonds that are now paid off," said Sheffield, who also contends the $2 million "pales in comparison" to the hundreds of millions the administration proposes in tax abatements.

"This is about creating a fair system for Detroiters when it comes to parking," she said.

Twitter: @cwilliams_DN