Howard County Council Chairman Calvin Ball has proposed a bill that would allow the police department to tow a vehicle after only one citation, a move designed to help the county collect $376,000 in outstanding fines.

The measure would "empower the finance and police department to enforce the law," said Ball, who introduced the measure Oct. 3.

Under the plan, the finance department, which oversees the collection of parking fines, would designate vehicles with outstanding violations and alert the police department that they were eligible for impoundment. The police could tow a vehicle for even one parking ticket that had gone unpaid for 90 days.

But even if the measure doesn't pass, the county's finance department still expects the majority of vehicle owners to pay their fines, spokeswoman Kathleen Sloan-Beard said.

"We do expect to collect on a sizable portion," she said, citing enforcement by the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration and a parking fine collection agency that contracts with the county. She also said most people will pay on their own — eventually.

Maryland drivers must pay all outstanding fines to be able to renew their vehicle registration, which state law requires be done every two years.

But Ball said the MVA requirement did not adequately address the problem of parking violators.

"So say you get your registration today [and] tomorrow you get a ticket," Ball said, pointing out that a violator would not have to pay that fine for almost two years.

Through the end of August, the county had 5,219 unpaid citations on file.

Ball said parking violations happen in all areas of the county.

"In my research, it's an issue that impacts everyone," he said, adding that some neighborhoods complain about illegally parked 18-wheelers, while others have issues with people overstaying their parking time limits.

While some council members have said the bill is too stringent and costly for vehicle owners, Ball said that "people should comply with the law, and if they don't they should pay the penalty."

"The neighbors should not have to pay," he said. "They should not have to put up with that from people who refuse to comply with the law."

Under the bill, vehicle owners could retrieve their cars and trucks only after paying all fines as well as late fees and the cost of towing and storage.

Howard County spokesman Kevin Enright said these owners must pay a flat fee of $125 for towing, plus administrative and storage fees, depending on how long the vehicle was kept.

The council is expected to vote on the bill Nov. 7. If passed, the measure would take effect in 61 days.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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