City seeks license plate reader to nab illegal parkers
On Monday, city council was tasked with deciding whether to authorize the purchase of a license plate reader for the parking division so employees can patrol special parking districts and place boots on cars with unpaid tickets, but ultimately tabled a vote until May when staff will present additional information.
Council agreed 4 to 3 to discuss the purchase in more detail on May 22, with council members Chris Hamilton, Mark Morehead and Jen Wallace as the opposing votes.
Parking Manager Marvin Howard said Monday that the city fails to collect thousands of dollars each year in unpaid parking fines – $280,000 in 2013 – but could get more of that money back using a License Plate Recognition (LPR) system mounted on a parking division vehicle.
As the employee drives, Howard explained, the camera would scan cars’ license plates and alert the employee of scofflaw parkers, defined in city code as those who owe $75 or more in unpaid tickets to the city of Newark. The employee would then be able to place a boot on the car, preventing it from being driven and forcing the driver to pay his or her fines.
The LPR is expected to cost $57,960, but Howard said once the city starts collecting more fees, officials should see a return on the investment within nine months.
Wallace, however, was uncomfortable with city employees driving around “hunting for this money.”
“It’s unwelcoming,” she said. “I really see this as something that’s really going to upset people and I think it unnecessarily invades their privacy, and I’m not in favor.”
Morehead agreed, adding that he has received several calls from residents asking him not to approve this.
Howard explained that the camera could also be used to manage the special residential parking dis- tricts, which generally include residential neighborhoods near the University of Delaware campus. Only residents with parking permits and guests with passes are allowed to park in these areas, but many students and visitors park there illegally.
He said the LPR would allow the parking employee to easily identify those illegal parkers and issue them tickets.
Permits for special parking districts are free and currently available in the Newark Police Department, but Howard said that would change if the parking division gets an LPR. He said the permitting process would move to the parking division and the physical permits would be eliminated, saving the city money and further streamlining the department.
New residents will be able to reg- ister their car online through the city website and those who currently have a permit with the city will be automatically entered into the new system. Temporary guest passes will also be available online, which Howard said will eliminate any misuse and likely free up more street parking.
He recommended council waive the bid process and buy the LPR through T2 Systems, which the city already utilizes as its parking management system, because the camera hardware needs to connect to the city’s existing software.
Most of the funding for the camera is available in the capital budget, but $10,110 will come out of the parking reserve fund, Howard said. After the first year, annual subscription costs starting at $6,780 and increasing approximately 1.6 percent each year will be budgeted for in the city’s operating budget.
But Councilman Luke Chapman wasn’t on board with Howard’s plan. He said residents like the permit decals and physical guest passes because it helps them see who belongs on their street and who doesn’t.
He suggested the city survey the residents living in these districts to see how they feel before council proceeds, and Mayor Polly Sierer agreed.
She said staff needs to do “significant outreach” before changing the process and come up with options for older residents who may not use the computer.
Councilman Stu Markham said he would like to know how effective the equipment has been in other cities and how Newark’s return on investment was calculated.
The city’s parking division is seeking to buy an automatic license plate reader to scan license plates and find drivers with unpaid parking tickets.