Farmville council makes decision on parking fines

Published 6:40 am Thursday, May 9, 2024

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It’s time to hit reset and try again. After hearing from a number of town residents and business owners during their Wednesday, May 8 meeting, the Farmville town council decided the best option was to scrap the current proposal for increased parking fines. Instead, the group will pick up the subject during their next work session in June, looking for ways to reach a compromise between what they feel needs to change and what residents want to keep the same. 

The issue comes as Farmville is upgrading its parking meters in the downtown area. To help pay for the equipment, which will allow people to pay by credit card or phone app, the meter charge went from 25 cents for 30 minutes to $1. And council members decided to use this time not just to upgrade the meters, but address some concerns that had been brought to their attention. 

First, there are a number of people who park in metered spaces longer than the law will allow. Currently, that’s a maximum of two hours in a metered space. Second, when some of these people get parking tickets, they don’t pay. Instead, the number of unpaid tickets keeps piling up. To address the problem, council members had discussed increasing both the parking fines and then doubling them if a person didn’t pay within two weeks. The idea was to scare people into following the rules or just paying the ticket. 

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“There are those that do not follow the law,” Farmville Manager Dr. Scott Davis said. “And a lot of them are business owners on Main Street. And others, they don’t want to pay 25 cents (and say) I’ll take my chances on getting a $25 ticket. This was supposed to be a method of ‘I don’t want a $50 ticket, so I’m going to pay the meter.’”

Concerns raised about impact

The first tier of parking fines under this plan would have started at $25, for things like parking your gas-powered car in an electric vehicle charging lot. Then the next level of fines would have been $50, with an increase to $100 if it’s not paid within 15 days. 

But the problem, for residents and business owners alike, was a concern over what impact these fines would have on downtown traffic. 

“If I wanted to have a council that did everything they could to keep people from coming downtown, to wipe out downtown, what I would do is increase the parking meters a lot and make the penalty really tough,” said Hunter Watson. The longtime business owner, who operated Davenport & Company LLC for several decades before his retirement, pointed out by increasing fines on everyone, the council ran the risk of driving people away from downtown for just a simple mistake. 

“You don’t need to do it to the people parking on the street,” Hunter said. “When a little old lady wants to go into the embroidery shop for a few minutes and stays longer than she thought and comes out and has a $50 ticket, that’s gonna be tough. If you make these things the law, and you have people getting $50 tickets, you’re gonna have people coming to see you.” 

Instead, if there are people not paying their fines, increase the rate on them, Hunter said. Penalize those people, rather than everyone. 

Hunter’s son Brad Watson followed up on his father’s point. In addition to serving as branch manager for Davenport’s Farmville location and on the company’s board of directors, Brad Watson has worn multiple hats here in town. He’s served as president of the Farmville Chamber of Commerce, chairman of the Farmville Planning Commission and worked with a number of other groups. The biggest problem with the increased fines, he argued, is that it could send the wrong message about Farmville. 

“If one of my clients gets a $50 ticket because they stayed too long in my office, they may not want to come back, even if I do a decent job,” Brad Watson said. “If somebody goes to Green Front from out of town and they get a $50 ticket, they may think twice about coming back to visit.”
And beyond that, what if someone does try to pay their ticket by putting a check in the mail. There’s no guarantee the money would arrive on time, so that $50 fine just went up to $100, he pointed out, for something the person has no control over. 

“This plan may look good on paper, but I expect the outcome will be far from good,” Brad said. “Not only is it overly punitive, but it says to people who come here and shop and do business that Farmville is not open for business. That it sends a message that it is not a good place to start a business and it will not be a good place to visit. Some said they didn’t want to see Farmville become a tourist trap with high fines, while others criticized the impact this could have on town residents. 

Jake Romaine, President of the Farmville Downtown Partnership, told the council his group had been fielding a number of calls and emails about this, as business owners felt the fines were excessive.

The other side of the parking fines argument 

But as council members pointed out, they couldn’t just do nothing about the issue.
“On the other side, that you all are not hearing, people are saying they come downtown, they’re tired of riding the block and not having a place to park,” said Farmville Council member Donald Hunter. “They see the same old vehicles (in those spaces) and nothing being done.” 

Donald said he would be fine reducing the amount and giving people more time to pay, but felt council needed to make a chance.
“We still need to come up with something that they will pay attention to,” he said. 

Fellow council member Daniel Dwyer agreed. 

“I’ve had some angst and some feedback from different folks in town about the magnitude of the hike,” Dwyer said. “I think we should have an increase and I think it should be closer to the $30 to $35 range.” 

Dwyer also suggested, as a way of solving the potential post office problem, that as long as someone postmarked the bill by the due date, they shouldn’t see the fine double. 

What happens next with parking fines?

Now, as mentioned, council members will have another meeting to discuss the proposal. They’ll pick this back up at their Wednesday, June 5 work session, with the idea of possibly having something back for a vote on the June 12 regular meeting.