Folly aims to get tough on parking scofflaws

Folly Beach has hired a collections agency to recover $1 million in unpaid parking fines dating back three years. Parking in neighborhoods is allowed on the road shoulders but tires must be off the pavement.

The City of Folly Beach says it is cracking down on thousands of people who have unpaid parking tickets.

Some 9,800 unpaid parking fines totaling just over $1 million have been turned over to a collections agency, said Spencer Wetmore, city administrator.

Folly has 5 miles of beach and one million visitors each year. “We have to be tough on parking to keep traffic flowing,” she said.

Folly resident Lisa Rowland said the city should have more signs telling visitors the parking regulations on neighborhood streets.

“When people are coming from out of state they don’t know the rules,” Rowland said.

Her husband, Eric Rowland, said the city should reduce the speed limit rather than focus on parking fines.

“The parking is all about gathering money. It’s not about safety,” he said.

People who park illegally may block narrow roads or access to fire hydrants, Wetmore said.

“If people want to avoid tickets, we provide paid parking lots at almost every one of our 56 beach-access points.”

Free parking in neighborhoods on road shoulders is popular at Folly. Visitors who choose that option need to know the regulations and take responsibility for their tickets if they break the rules, Wetmore said.

“We’re just trying to send a message that we’re serious,” she said.

Folly, which has an annual budget of $6 million, is collecting on late parking fines for the past three years. City Council voted recently to hire Municipal Collections of America to recover the lost revenue.

Patricia Keane of Carolina Beach, N.C., said she got her first parking ticket ever during a visit to Folly Beach. She learned that she received a $35 fine because she parked on the road shoulder with one tire touching the pavement. Because of the experience, she said she will not return to Folly.

“If they are going to have the rules they need to post them clearly,” she said.

Mayor Tim Goodwin said the city might put a sign on the causeway onto the island letting people know that they can visit the city website to find out about the parking rules.

“You can put up all the signs in the world but people aren’t really going to pay attention. We post signs at every entrance to every beach walkover. People walk right by them and say ‘I don’t know the rules of the beach,’” he said.

The city is a stickler for requiring all four tires to be off the road when a vehicle is parked on the shoulder because its streets are very narrow, he said.

The city adds $10 to fines unpaid after 30 days. The fine, including the $10 late fee, is doubled for tickets unpaid after 60 days. If a ticket is more than 90 days late, the collections agency adds a 35 percent fee.

Current fines at Folly are $1,000 for illegal parking in a space for the handicapped; $200 for parking on the beach, a dune or in a vehicle access to the beach; and $100 for parking within 15 feet of a fire hydrant. Other offenses, such as parking on the road shoulder without all the vehicle tires off the pavement, are $40.

“Tires on the pavement is a big one out here,” Wetmore said.

Delinquent city parking fines paid by Dec. 4 avoid the additional collections agency penalty, she said.

“For most people, this is in the neighborhood of $80,” she said.

On Isle of Palms, the city sends collection letters when parking tickets are 30 days and 60 days past due. At 90 days past due, a final notice is mailed indicating that a bench warrant may be issued for arrest. In recent years, IOP has averaged about 4,000 tickets per year. Of those, about 15 percent involve collections efforts, Administrator Linda Tucker said.

The City of Charleston issued about 171,000 parking citations in 2014, which brought in $3.4 million. That was up from 147,000 tickets and $2.7 million in 2013. About $2.1 million of the $3.4 million went toward enforcement and collection activities, officials said.

The City of North Charleston doesn’t issue parking tickets. And the town of Mount Pleasant issued only 412 tickets last year, less than the City of Charleston issued, on average, in one day. Sullivan’s Island issued 223 parking tickets in 2014, officials said.

We're improving out commenting experience.

We’ve temporarily removed comments from articles while we work on a new and better commenting experience. In the meantime, subscribers are encouraged to join the conversation at our Post and Courier Subscribers group on Facebook.