For Scofflaws, Three Tickets and You're Out

County Widens Dragnet to Collect Unpaid Fines

by Lisa Rein, Washington Post

Fairfax County supervisors have added another tool to their arsenal for cracking down on parking scofflaws by authorizing police and sheriff's deputies to tow or boot cars with just three unpaid parking tickets.

The cars can now be seized even if they are parked legally on a public or private road. And law enforcement officers do not have to wait for permission from county tax authorities to enforce the law.

"This empowers street officers," Kevin Greenlief, the county's director of tax administration, said. "If they're out there writing a ticket, all they're going to have to do is call in to the station and verify that the car owes tickets, and they can tow or boot it."

The new enforcement action, taken Monday and effective immediately, is an effort to help the county reduce a massive backlog of uncollected tickets for expired parking meters, invalid decals, failing to obey signs and other violations.

Until now, sheriff's deputies have needed to wait for the Taxation Department to issue an order to boot a car or truck for unpaid tickets, a process that could start only once a motorist had accumulated six violations. Boot requests were erratic, and cars with outstanding tickets were not towed, officials said.

"If we're not strict about enforcement, it breeds contempt for the law," said Supervisor Gerald E. Connolly (D-Providence), who received complaints from constituents that the county was not enforcing parking restrictions in their neighborhoods.

The backlog of unpaid tickets and resulting lost revenue has alarmed supervisors, as they have watched revenue from sales and business taxes plummet in the past year.

In recent months, the county government has chipped away at a backlog that stood in February at 63,550 tickets worth close to $2.9 million. The county has contracted with a private company to collect on delinquent tickets, more cars have been booted, liens have been issued against wages and bank accounts, and the state has deducted scofflaws' parking debts from tax refunds.

The new law will allow sheriff's deputies to check for unpaid tickets from the Taxation Department's files while they run a background check on the vehicle for other traffic violations. Tyler Corey, a spokesman for the Fairfax County sheriff's office, said he expects the department to begin towing cars in addition to booting them.

Sheriffs have issued 1,100 boot orders already this year, up from 600 last year, officials said. Close to $2.8 million in outstanding revenue has poured in so far in the fiscal year that ends June 30, Greenlief said, up from $2.3 million in the last fiscal year and $1.6 million in the year before that.

Uncollected revenue must be wiped from the books after three years. The county forfeited more than $500,000 last year on 11,500 expired tickets that had been on the books since 1998, Greenlief said.

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