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Detroit — The City Council on Tuesday signed off on a plan to reinstate an early payment discount for parking fines but it will apply only to city residents.

The ordinance amendment, approved by a 7-2 vote, will reduce $45 tickets for parking meter and no-parking zone violations by 50% if city residents take care of the ticket within five business days. Council members James Tate and Andre Spivey, who raised concern over the cost of processing tickets and collection of data to prove eligibility, voted no.

The proposal, co-sponsored by council President Brenda Jones and Pro Tem Mary Sheffield, is designed to improve collections and provide relief to low-income residents visiting the city’s downtown to do business or take part in events. 

The ordinance will go into effect on Nov. 1. 

Jones said Tuesday residents have "suffered a whole lot" over the years and although there are some concerns among council members tied to the roll out of a database that will track eligibility, it's much needed. 

"It's a relief and our residents have hollered over how much the parking tickets cost," Jones said. "There was a point when we had discounted parking tickets. I just feel that we need this to come back to help our residents."

Detroit’s administration and Sheffield have said they are comfortable with extending the discount to residents alone, despite some concern from legal observers who have warned it could open the city up to litigation; namely, applying a policy to streets that are state-funded, like Woodward.

To qualify, drivers must reside in Detroit and their vehicles must be registered to addresses in approved Detroit ZIP codes and have no more than one outstanding parking ticket. 

To obtain the discount, residents will be asked to submit license plate information through a portal that will be made available on the city's website. They also will be able to provide that information in-person at the parking department, which would be entered into that system by staff, said Keith Hutchings, who heads the municipal parking department. 

The change is expected to reduce the city's general fund revenue by about $73,000 annually, based on the five-day discount window. But to offset the loss, the parking department will reduce recurring contractual expenses by an equal amount, Detroit's finance chief wrote in a May 23 fiscal impact analysis.

Hutchings has said about 80% of the city's parking violations are issued to non-residents. 

Residency is expected to be verified daily through a database cross-checked with the Secretary of State's Office. Hutchings told council members Tuesday that his office remains in talks with the state over the best route for doing the daily checks. 

The collection rate for parking violations in 2018 was 74%, and residents represent 20% of unpaid tickets, according to parking officials. The department has estimated that about half of the typically unpaid residential tickets will be paid with the discount. 

Councilman Scott Benson, during debate before the vote Tuesday, noted "people still have the opportunity to park legally as well."

Residents will be paying $22.50 for a reduced ticket. However, it costs the city $25 to issue and process a $45 ticket.

The parking department's budget assumes that expired meters and no parking zone fines bring in about $5.2 million in revenue annually and $10.7 million for all parking violations.

Alexis Wiley, chief of staff to Mayor Mike Duggan, previously told The News that the mayor supports the plan, noting it's not uncommon for cities across the country to give residents preferential pricing when it comes to places like recreation centers and golf courses.

The ordinance amendment has been a subject of debate for years to bring down costly fines put in place amid Detroit's financial crisis.

Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr in 2015 approved a new rate schedule, increasing Detroit's parking fines for the first time in more than a decade.

The controversial move bumped ticket costs from $30, $50 and $80 to $45, $65 and $95, respectively, for parking violations and late fees. It also eliminated a $10 rate for early payment.

The ordinance amendment approved Tuesday is a compromise to a plan first drafted by Sheffield last fall that would have lowered tickets from $45 to $30 for expired meters. It also called for a 10-day grace period to reduce fines by 50 percent.

The effort is part of a legislative package coined the "People's Bills," a set of initiatives spearheaded by Sheffield aimed at addressing water rates, affordable housing and other human rights issues. 

Sheffield, in a provided statement, pledged she will continue to find ways to give Detroiters "the breaks they deserve" for sticking it out through the city's financial challenges. 

"As we continue to revitalize the city of Detroit it's important to remember that we still have a significant portion of our residents living in poverty," Sheffield said. "Given the improvements that the city needs to make to processes and customer service, I believe that we shouldn't be in the business of penalizing residents simply trying to navigate the city's bureaucracy or partake in activities downtown."

cferretti@detroitnews.com

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