York City mayor wants to give people more time to pay parking tickets

Maria Yohn
York Dispatch
This parking meter in the WeCo district was painted by someone who apparently was very optimistic about its passersby.

Five days is simply not enough time for many people to gather the funds to pay a parking ticket, according to York City's mayor. If he has his way, drivers will be given 15 days to pay their fines before hefty penalties kick in.

Mayor Michael Helfrich made the announcement Monday, March 5,  during his weekly Facebook Live address to his constituents. Helfrich said that he has been receiving complaints from people who have received parking tickets and can't pay for them within the time allotted, and those complaints resonated with the mayor.

"What folks said to me made a lot of sense. Five days doesn't even give some people enough time to get a paycheck to get the money, and the cost rises," he said.

Helfrich is shown here with Police Chief Troy Bankert, providing information about a morning police-involved shooting in Harrisburg in which York Police Officer Kyle Pitts was wounded, Thursday January 18, 2018. US Marshal Christopher Hill was killed during the incident and a Harrisburg officer was also wounded. John A. Pavoncello photo

According to the York City website, parking fines range from $20 for a meter violation to $100 for blocking a fire hydrant. Most fines are about $25, according to the site.

The mayor said that he has discussed the issue with his staff and administration, and they are in agreement.

City council: However, the city ordinance must be changed to achieve his goal, and for that, he must gain the approval of the city council. 

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Convincing the council might prove to be an uphill battle for Helfrich, as city council president Henry Nixon has already expressed reservations about Helfrich's proposal.

"My first reaction was, 'Why?'" he said.

"I'm pretty strong about folks that do something that's against the law, regardless of how petty or small," he said.

Henry Nixon

Although Nixon expressed sympathy toward those who cannot afford to pay their tickets on time, to him, it doesn't negate the fact that they violated the city ordinance by parking in a metered space without paying for the time.

Nixon said that drivers have the choice between paying for an hour or two at the meter or parking in the garage, where they can avoid the chance of a ticket entirely.

The ordinance has been in effect for a long time, Nixon said, and when it was enacted, the council felt that five days was "ample time" to pay a parking ticket.

City Councilmen Michael Helfrich, right, and Henry Nixon, left, share a laugh during election night at the Democratic Party Headquarters on South Duke Street in York, Pa. on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. Dawn J. Sagert - dsagert@yorkdispatch.com

He also plans to question local district justices about the matter, as well as ask the mayor to give an estimate of how many complaints he has received. 

"I've never received one," he said. 

Increased cost: In a subsequent interview, Helfrich responded to Nixon's objections, arguing that the ordinance change is more of a matter of fairness than leniency.

"It in no way makes the law more lax. When you get a ticket, you get a ticket," he said.

However, Helfrich takes issue with the second penalty, the increased cost for individuals who don't have the money or the means to pay the parking ticket within five days, noting that it unfairly punishes lower-income individuals who live from paycheck to paycheck.

"We don't want people to have to choose between basic needs, such as food, and paying a parking ticket," he said.

Helfrich will present his proposal to the city council during the March 28 committee meeting. The proposal also will include a 10-day extension for neighborhood improvement ordinance fines, as the deadline for those fines also is set at five days. 

Nearby Harrisburg allows drivers up to four days to pay parking fines, but Lancaster follows the model Helfrich is proposing, allowing drivers up to 15 days to pay parking fines.