Live 5 Investigates: How much money goes unpaid for delinquent parking tickets

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A $14 parking ticket sounds like a small price to pay to the City of Charleston for parking illegally, but those small fines can add up to big numbers if it's not paid.

In total the city has $4.4 million in unpaid fines in three years.

"That's hard to believe," said Matthew Winston who lives in Charleston. "I'm not surprised it's a lot of money but that's a pretty big increment I would have never guessed."

"I think it's easy for people to forget to pay the one ticket," said Joleen Deames, the assistant CFO with City of Charleston.

Right now, there are more than 80,000 people who have dodged paying their parking tickets.

On top of that there are several people who owe over a thousand dollars to the city.

Some of the people who owe the most money to the city don't even live in South Carolina, or at least have their plates registered with the state.

Some of the biggest offenders are drivers from Florida and Virginia with each driver owing over $1,000.

The Department of Motor Vehicles would not release the names of who owes the city.

"They're from out of state, they may be deceased, they may have sold the car," said Charleston City attorney Susan Herdina. "Unfortunately, there may be a myriad of circumstances which make the collection more difficult than maybe you'd think on its face."

When it comes to collecting the unpaid fines city officials said they're looking into it.

They said a downside could be that it would take even more money away from the city.

"We do do a good job of collecting the outstanding fines so the question is in the any extra value there to hire somebody where you would be giving a good chunk of your revenue away to that person if there's an opportunity to collect in house," said Herdina.

The prices some people owe the city can get pretty steep.

"I feel like the people from out of state don't feel an obligation to pay as people who live here"," said Deames.

Looking at annual numbers for city delinquent fines for the last three years, it shows people living in South Carolina owe the most by a landslide.

North Carolina and Georgia fall in second and third place for owing the most.

Drivers from Florida and Virginia also owe the City of Charleston a substantial amount of money, something drivers who live here said is frustrating.

"I've certainly been in those spots before and paid those fines so I guess I'm a Charlestonian at heart," said Winston.

The question some have is how are people getting away with it?

"It doesn't go to collections but it's subject to getting your car booted or towed," said Deames.

City officials say more cars are getting booted and towed than in years past.

"Over the last few years the city has increased the number of parking enforcement officers who are trying to boot cars," said Deames. "There was previously only an individual that was able to boot cars so we've increased that to 14 of 15 individuals."

City officials said they've also increased their capability with a software that allows them to see how much each person owes before they get a new ticket.

City officials also said they added an online portal for people to pay their tickets online.

Additionally, instead of getting one notice people now get two.

"We're trying to evaluate what's working and what's not working before we move to the next step," said Deames.

With all these steps in place the city is still missing out on money.

Over the last three years they've been unable to collect $4.4 million, however city officials said the unpaid money isn't necessarily considered missing revenue.

"The parking enforcement is not as so much a revenue stream. We consider that a penalty for not paying your parking. It's more to change behavior and we don't consider it a revenue source," said Deames.

If the city had that missing money it would go into the general fund which they then could hire more police officers, build more parks, and fix more roads.

The city only plans for how much they historically collect, not fine to count as a revenue source.

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