Parking ticket fines increase

By Ruth Longoria

If you have a glove compartment filled with overlooked, unpaid parking tickets, you might have to empty your pocketbook more than you previously expected.

In a relatively brief City Council meeting May 16, with primarily traffic-related issues to discuss, the council agreed to add a $25 penalty -- as allowed by state law -- for a defendant's failure to respond to traffic infraction notices. This step is in response to the Island's average of 60 tickets issued each month and large number of violators who fail to respond by either paying the fine or appearing in court, said Katie H. Knight, assistant city attorney.

``If people do appear in court and take care of it, there's no extra penalty. But, before this, some people just ignored the notice and the ticket had no teeth,'' she said.

Moving from a district court system to a municipal court prompted the decision, Knight told councilmembers. When the Mercer Island Municipal Court became operational on Jan. 1, 2005, there was no provision available to enforce a defendant's response to parking tickets. The new $25 penalty will apply to violators who fail to respond to tickets that relate to parking, stopping, standing or other pedestrian-related infractions.

After a brief discussion of the proposed penalty -- to assure councilmember Sven Goldmanis, who questioned the reasoning behind the penalty, that this was not in any form a new way to tax Island residents and that the court has the discretion to withhold the penalty if mitigating circumstances apply (such as what a judge deems a ``really good reason'' for not showing up in court) -- the council voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance.

In other business, the council approved the proposed $8.69 million six-year Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP), a city plan that state law requires to be annually updated and adopted in order for a city to be eligible for state and federal funding and to comply with growth projections of the Growth Management Act. The TIP allows city planners to identify and evaluate existing problems and decide on specific projects to help maintain, preserve and maximize use of the Island's roadways and trails.

In addition to previously proposed street paving, bike and pedestrian trail and shoulder improvements, as part of the Island's 2006 through 2011 Transportation Improvement Plan, a budget of $90,000 is set aside in 2007 for proposed guardrail installation. Guardrails are deemed necessary in specified locations due to studies of traffic accidents in the past five years on East Mercer Way. In those crashes -- the majority of which were caused by driver inattention, speeding or driving under the influence -- vehicles left the roadway and were propelled down steep embankments. None of the accidents studied involved pedestrians or bicycles, according to city staff reports.

The TIP also allows for an anticipated cost of $200,000 to replace a 30-year-old traffic signal at Island Crest Way and S.E. 40th Street. Signal design is proposed for 2008 and the signal replacement is scheduled for 2009.

Another part of the TIP includes a proposed traffic study to determine the needs of arterials, such as future traffic lights. And, $400,000 is budgeted for traffic signals expected to be necessary within the Town Center.

Voicing one of the few dissenting opinions of the night, councilman Dan Grausz questioned the seemingly disproportionate amount of the budget expected to come from developers within the new Town Center. So far, the city has only collected traffic impact fees of $30,000 from the Starbucks development and $20,000 from The Mercer Project, said city engineer Patrick Yamashita.

Grausz said he wanted to be sure the city is receiving the maximum amount they can impose from developers.

``I'm just concerned that we're asking taxpayers to pay $400,000 for traffic lights in an area that they'd probably prefer not to have traffic lights,'' Grausz said. ``We wouldn't even need a traffic light if it wasn't for the new development.''

After an assurance from city attorney Londi Lindell that the city will collect the maximum amount, and at the request of Deputy Mayor Bryan Cairns (who facilitated the council meeting due to the absence of Mayor Alan Merkle), Yamashita agreed to bring the council a revised total of developer fees imposed when that amount has been collected.

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