Those caught parking illegally in a handicap parking spot could soon pay a higher fine. Much higher.
The Urban County Council is considering raising the fines for parking in a handicapped spot from $15 to $250. Fines for other parking violations also could increase in July, LexPark officials said this week.
Lexington's fine for parking in a handicapped spot is the same as for parking at an expired meter. Other cities in Kentucky and the Midwest have much higher fines for parking in a handicapped spot without a permit, said Kristy Stambaugh of the Mayor's Commission for Citizens with Disabilities, which is asking the council for the increase.
In Louisville, the fine is $100. Get caught in Cincinnati, and the fine is $250. In Columbus, it's $500.
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Those backing the change asked for the fine to increase to $150 during the Urban County Council's Budget and Finance Committee meeting Tuesday. Councilman George Myers suggested the fine be increased to $250.
Many on the council agreed.
"I think we need to make this very strict," Vice Mayor Linda Gorton said. "I think this needs to be a stiff enough fine that people won't do it. Ever."
LexPark monitors public parking spots. Private parking lots in shopping centers are monitored by police. The fine for parking in a handicapped spot in a private lot can be upwards of $250 if police write it as a traffic violation.
If the city ultimately approves the $250 fine, the fines would be the same, Myers said.
The council voted during Tuesday's meeting to move the issue forward. A final vote could happen in coming weeks.
Also Tuesday, the council voted to change the handicapped parking ordinance to ensure that no one parks in the double-yellow striping next to many handicapped spaces in parking lots. Donnie Wittler, who is in a wheelchair, told the council Tuesday that at least once a week, he finds a vehicle parked in the area that is roughly the same size as a parking spot. If someone parks in the yellow lines, he can't use the wheelchair lift to get into his car because there isn't enough space. Wittler has to wait for the person to return before he can leave. Many people who park in the double-yellow stripping have permits for handicapped parking, he said.
"One day I even put a cone out, and when I came back out, someone had stolen my cone," Wittler said.
The ordinance would require additional signs so people know they can't park in the double-yellow areas. Private businesses could be eligible for grant money to help defray the costs, Stambaugh said.
LexPark, the Parking Authority's enforcement arm, can increase fines without council approval as long as it does not raise the fine to more than $100, said Gary Means, executive director of LexPark.
At Tuesday's meeting, Means showed the council more than 20 fines that probably will increase in July, the beginning of the new fiscal year. The LexPark board already has approved the fine increases.
Most parking violations now are $15 in Lexington.
"All of the increases are to address public safety or pedestrian safety," Means said. The steepest increase is from $15 to $100 for two citations — parking too close to a fire hydrant and parking too close to a fire station.
Means said meter violations — failing to pay or parking at an expired meter — would remain $15.
Myers has worked with LexPark to make those changes after witnessing several problems with a fire station across from Maxwell Elementary School. Parents who drop off and pick up their children at the school were parking too close to the station.
Fire engines are big and cumbersome to maneuver. Without enough space on either side of a fire station, "They simply can't get out," Myers said.
Multiple tickets, additional striping and signs did not deter parents from parking there, Myers said.
"This is not an increase in taxes; this is not an increase in a fee," he said. "This is a penalty for breaking the law. As long as you don't break the law, you won't have to pay."
Means said officials have not determined when the new fines would take effect.
"We will give the public plenty of notice," Means said. In addition, there would be a grace period or warning before the ticket prices increase.