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Beaches: Council delays action on parking tickets

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

An ordinance that would allow Georgetown County deputies to ticket illegally parked vehicles instead of having them towed has been deferred while county officials work through the details of the proposal. Some County Council members are concerned the ordinance that is designed to address problems along the beaches could have an impact elsewhere in the county.

County Council decided this month to delay action until they could get several questions and concerns addressed.

Citations would come with a $50 penalty, which would increase to $100 if a ticket isn’t paid within 30 days, according to material council reviewed.

The ordinance was formulated at the request of the sheriff’s office largely in response to issues seen near beaches on the Waccamaw Neck during the summer.

“The problem is that we right now have no way to really ticket or issue a citation to vehicles that are illegally parked and causing a safety hazard to pedestrians and other vehicles,” said Wesley Bryant, the county attorney.

Deputies can issue the same kind of tickets state troopers write, but those have to be handed directly to a person; they can’t be left on an unattended vehicle.

That leaves deputies with two options for illegally parked cars. They can have them towed, creating a big expense and inconvenience for the vehicle owner and keeping a deputy from other duties while he or she waits for the tow truck to arrive.

Or they can ignore the problem.

Allowing a deputy to leave a ticket would create another option that’s better for the sheriff’s office and the vehicle owner.

Additionally, revenue from the tickets would go to the county. Revenue from the tickets deputies are allowed to write now goes to the state.

Bryant and the sheriff’s office receive numerous phone calls and complaints every year about the negative impact and treatment associated with towing of illegally vehicles. One of those complaints resulted in a lawsuit against the towing company and the county, Bryant said.

Vehicles that accumulate more than three unpaid citations at any time would be declared a public nuisance and could be towed or immobilized, and are subject to an additional $200 fine. Towing fees or storage charges could also be assessed by private towing companies.

The vehicle won’t be released until all tickets are paid, according to the proposed ordinance.

If tickets aren’t paid within 180 days, they go to court.

County Council Chairman Johnny Morant asked if vehicle owners would receive a reminder before the penalty doubles at the end of 30 days. That’s one of the questions council wants to pose to the sheriff.

They also want more details about where in the budget revenue from citations would go.

Council Member Jerry Oakley suggested putting the money in the fund that supports beach access and maintenance of public parking areas, since most of the revenue will come from the areas around the beaches.

Council Member Leona Myers-Miller took issue with the doubling of the fee after 30 days.

“I have a problem with that. I think it’s kind of outrageous,” she said.

She suggested the fee be lowered and the time for the increase changed from 30 days to 60 days.

Council Member Austin Beard pointed out that even at $100 a citation is a lot less expensive for a vehicle owner than having their car towed.

Council Member Ron Charlton worried how the ordinance would affect people attending fundraisers or special events, such as business after hours.

“Those only occur every once in a while, but somebody could go and probably write 50 or 60 tickets. I think we would hear a lot of outcry about that,” he said. “If you’ve ever been to one of those events, people are parking up and down the road on both sides.”

Representatives from the western part of the county also have concerns they want addressed about how the ordinance would affect their constituents in areas where parking doesn’t come with the kinds of issues it does in more urban areas.

“We don’t want this to become a solution where there is no problem,” Oakley said. But applying the ordinance only to the Waccamaw Neck isn’t a possibility and something needs to be done to remedy the situation the sheriff’s office has reported.

“I don’t like regulation,” Oakley said. “Nobody likes regulation, but sometimes it’s necessary and here I just don’t think we can turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to the sheriff’s request.”

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