Motorists who park in the western Maryland town of Oakland face only a nominal fine for letting the meters expire, but the mayor says that's for a reason.
People know the fine for being caught at an expired meter is only 50 cents, so they're more tempted to let the time run out or not pay at all -- and that means even greater revenues from tickets, said Mayor H.D. Swartzentruber.
"They will take chances on 50 cents, but if you put your fine up to $2, they will put in a nickel," said Swartzentruber.
Fines in the Washington area, by contrast, are in the $10-$15 range, according to law enforcement authorities.
Oakland Police Chief John K. Sines said motorists pump about about $12,000 annually into the town's 128 parking meters. He said fines for meter violations bring several thousand more dollars a year into the town's coffers.
It costs only a nickel to park at an Oakland meter for 30 minutes. A dime will buy an hour of parking time, and those without small change get two hours for a quarter, he said.
The initial 50-cent fine increases to $5 in the town of about 1,500 people if the offender doesn't pay up within three days, said Sines.
Swartzentruber said the meter violation fine went up to 50 cents a few years back. Before that, the fine was a quarter.
The possibility of increased revenue from violators is not the only reason the fine is kept at a half-dollar, said the 85-year-old Swartzentruber, who is serving his ninth mayoral term.
"We are in, you might say, a low-income bracket up here in Garrett County," said Swartzentruber.
The town fathers have not only kept down the size of the meter fine, but have seen to it that paying the penalty for overparking is as easy as glancing down the street.
On the back of each parking ticket is a list of Oakland stores that have containers to receive the fines.
"If you get a ticket and you want to pay it right away, you can look up and down the street and you can see the name of one of the establishments named on the back of the ticket," Swartzentruber said.