December 21, 2011 - It was supposed to be an opportunity for citizens to give their input regarding Oxford Village's proposed parking/ordinance violations bureau, but the only individuals who spoke at the Dec. 13 public hearing were government employees.
Oxford Public Library Director Bryan Cloutier was concerned about the possibility of losing revenue, while village Code Enforcement Officer Dan Durham was interested in possibly saving the municipality money.
Rather than continuing to go through the Rochester Hills 52-3 District Court, the village is looking to issue its own tickets and collect fine amounts it sets for parking and ordinance violations.
Fines for parking violations would include $100 for illegally parking in a handicapped space, $15 for parking in a space longer than the posted time limit, and $40 for all other offenses.
Fines for ordinance violations would include $25 for the first offense and $100 for the second offense. Tickets would only be written after a written warning notice and/or letter has been issued.
Violations include those sections of the code of ordinances pertaining to animals, canvassers and solicitors, alarm systems, nuisances, excavations, inoperable motor vehicles, streets, sidewalks, snow and ice removal, trees and weeds. It also includes violations pertaining to the zoning ordinance "in its entirety."
Both parking and ordinance violation fines would have to be paid to the village within five business days under this proposal, unless the ticket is being contested, in which case it would have to go through the court system.
Cloutier expressed his concern to council that collecting parking violation fines locally as opposed to through the district court could cause the library to lose some of its funding.
Currently, under state statute, revenue generated by penal fines (such as parking tickets) is collected by the court system and disbursed to the county treasurer, who then distributes it to local libraries on a per capita basis.
According to Cloutier, the Oxford library received $19,657 in penal fine revenue this year.
"Any reduction in this amount would mean the difference between being able to maintain much needed services and materials for the unemployed or continuing to provide educational programs for our young people in our community," Cloutier wrote in a Dec. 13 e-mail to the village.
Cloutier told council the library can ill-afford to lose any more funding.
"We, like you, are witnessing significant cuts in revenue," he said.
He explained how the library's already lost more than $300,000 in tax revenue and that doesn't include the approximately $24,000 per year that gets diverted to the Downtown Development Authority from the library's two operating millages
Factor in the possibility of the state government deciding to eliminate the personal property tax and the library stands to lose an additional $80,000 in annual revenue.
"It just all adds up," Cloutier said.
Village Police Chief Mike Neymanowski assured Cloutier that the penal fine revenue the library derives from parking tickets is "very, very minimal."
"We probably address, in an average month, 400 violations and probably of that, maybe 15 to 20 will be parking tickets," he explained. "So, the majority of your library funds are coming from moving violations."
Durham spoke of the benefits of creating an ordinance violation bureau, issuing local tickets and setting/collecting local fines.
"I see this more as a way for the village to save revenue than to gain revenue," he told council. "The fee schedule (i.e. proposed fine amounts) is so minimal that it is not going to be anything that is going to serve to solve a deficit issue."
He believes that eventually, ordinance violators will realize it's cheaper to just pay a local ticket than go to court.
Right now, whenever Durham issues a ticket for an ordinance violation, it must be done through the district court and the village must pay attorney fees to pursue the citation.
"(Violators) can work with the village attorney to reach a settlement and avoid physically appearing in court, but they normally don't," Durham told this reporter in a later interview. "Normally, when it gets to that point, they physically appear in court. If they don't move quickly, they're issued an order, by the court, to appear as am I and we all have to be there together."
He told council the last ticket he issued for a messy yard ended up costing the village $900 in attorney fees.
Attorney fees aren't just the result of court time. They can be generated by Durham contacting the village attorney prior to a ticket's issuance to make sure the case is solid and by the violator if they attempt to settle the matter out of court.
Durham noted he's not roaming village streets issuing a ton of tickets.
"I don't write many tickets," he said. "I don't like to write tickets."
He told council the most tickets he issues in a normal year is about five or six.
"When we get to the point where it is evident that nothing else is going to work, then we issue a citation," he said. "We have to issue a ticket only in the small percentage of cases when, quite frankly, I can't communicate successfully with the people involved."
Tickets typically result in court time.
"If I write a ticket and it is not settled between the parties, I am asked to go to court every time – 100 percent of the time," Durham said. "Unless the attorney has it so locked down, I don't need to (go). Quite frankly, I detest going to court, so if they give me that option, I never go."
Durham was proud to note that when it it comes to ordinance cases, the village has "not lost one yet." That's primarily because Durham takes the time to build a case with photos, letters sent to the property owner and documented personal contact.
"It all goes into a file," he said.
Durham said the big problem is violators who choose not to comply with local ordinances "understand the procedure as well as I do" and "there are a small percentage that will push it right to the very end."
"They understand that (the village is) going to have to hire an attorney if they choose not to comply," he said. "And something that should have been resolved almost immediately takes what seems to me, to be forever."
Durham believes "that will change" with the creation of a local ordinance violation bureau.
"I think once people (know) that they could be held more closely accountable, they would be a little bit more apt to move forward with whatever they need to do more quickly," he said. "That would be a hope, but I wouldn't be surprised to see that happen."
Durham explained to this reporter that "in the beginning, you might not see any immediate change, but once these people keep going to court and keep losing," they'll realize they "can either pay a little bit (in fines) across the table at the village or pay a lot in court."
"I think you'll see things change and I think there will be a savings," he said.
It should be noted that the ordinance violations bureau would not be empowered to adjudicate disputed citations.
If someone is issued a ticket and they wish to challenge it, that could only be done through the court system. If a violator loses their challenge, they would be subject to paying the ticket fine, plus prosecution costs at the court's discretion.
In the end, if the village chooses to create an ordinance violations bureau, Durham said, "The people will never notice the difference."
"The procedure is exactly the same as it has been for the last three years," he said. "It's not like you're turning folks loose with a ticket book and (telling them to ) go scatter them up and down Washington St."
"It is a minor change. It is to save the village money and that is the primary benefit of it. It is not to bring money in; it is to keep money from going out," Durham noted.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.