Memphis drivers have had it pretty easy: get a parking ticket, don't pay, wait a year and it all goes away.
For decades Memphis has been losing millions of dollars because of the city's failure to collect money from unpaid parking tickets and fees.
But an idea to appoint a new city revenue collection manager has the city court clerk wondering if his office is being phased out of the collections business altogether.
But, now the Wharton administration and the city council insist those days of lax enforcement are over and they want to make it so your wallets will tell you so.
For decades it's been the worst kept dirty secret in Memphis governmental circles.
"We got a lot of money on the table that's owed to the city of Memphis that we should try to collect," said Councilman Lee Harris. "
"Estimates still put us in the millions of dollars, in particularly, we say for instance with the parking tickets and some of the other fines and fees that are available to the city," added George Little, the city's chief administration officer.
Imagine having the winning lottery ticket that could work wonders in helping to pull you out of the financial hole you've been in for years, but you never move to cash in. However, with a new resolve, the administration of Mayor A C Wharton is trying to take more of an aggressive approach to collect on city parking tickets and fines.
It began last fall when the law firm of Memphis attorney Handel Durham submitted a collection plan to the administration to get deadbeat parking ticket abusers a wake-up call to start paying up. Little says in the last six months since Durham's firm took over, collections in that area have risen to a net return of $500,000 over the same period last year.
"Basically, it was a function being carried out by the city court clerk," he said. "But, they were really able to focus their efforts, provide the kind of follow-up at a reasonable cost that according to the clerk they couldn't provide..and the results speak for themselves."
Yet, while the Durham experiment appears to be paying dividends, an agreement with the city council has the Shelby County Trustee's Office has taking over collecting property taxes and another outsourced agency handling delinquent tax revenues, Memphis city court clerk Thomas Long feels his office and the work he's done over the last 18 years is getting the short shrift in favor of the new revenue kids on the block.
"I don't want be the mayor, and I don't want the mayor to be the clerk," Long said. "I'm the clerk and I expect to get the same results from any other elected official."
Long's frustration becomes even more understandable as the Wharton administration looks into its next step to recoup lost bucks -- the appointment of a full-time revenue collector, an idea that's receiving mixed reviews from some council members.
'Why do we need to have another person or another entity doing some things that we believe that these other agencies already in place are doing?," questioned Councilman Harold Collins.
"We got to have somebody full time in city hall, nine to five, every single day, that's accountable to the city council and accountable to the mayor," Councilman Harris added. "And is there to answer questions about how much money is outstanding and what kind of measures is he or she taking to collect that revenue."
While Little didn't go into any details about the future of the court clerk's office, he did praise long for a suggestion that figures to pull in even more bucks to the city's coffers in the years ahead.
"Council adopted changes in keeping with other cities where the longer you go without paying the more fines you rack up," Little said.
Beginning sometime in August failing to pay a parking ticket within 90 days in the city of Memphis will cost you an additional $90 fee.
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