MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - The crackdown on parking in Memphis has been a monumental failure, at least when it comes to putting money into the city budget.
Fines and fees are off by more than five million bucks. That's money the city needs this year, as city council members will soon debate on cutting city services, laying off workers, or raising your taxes.
If illegal parking was a felony, a lot of Memphis drivers would be on death row. Everywhere we looked downtown, meters were expired and signs were ignored.
Lemuel Boyce was overheating over the parking situation. "Every time I come outdoors I'm catching the police putting a ticket on my car, and every time they put a ticket on my car, I've got to pay that ticket. And if I don't pay that ticket I'll get a boot put on my car," he said. "My business is my business. But I need for them to help us out with the business of getting us in and getting us out of here."
We'll get back to Mr. Boyce in a second.
City council members were promised that piles of parking ticket cash would be waiting if they allowed cars to be booted and towed. There would be millions of big beautiful Benjamins waiting to be spent on salaries and parks and potholes, all that city stuff.
So far, it hasn't happened.
Memphis City Councilman Jim Strickland told abc24.com that revenues have been "significantly less than projected, probably five million dollars or more less than projected."
Memphis parking tickets have normally been treated like something you'd scrape from the bottom of your shoe. The $21 fine is small compared to other cities. And since the fines are wiped off the books after a year, many people simply don't pay; they wait and it simply goes away.
Booting and towing was supposed to put the fear into a scofflaw's heart, but the boots have yet touched the street.
Let's check back in with Mr. Boyce, who has the meter thing down to a science.
"Every thirty minutes you gotta feed that meter, because it only holds 30 minutes on the meter."
All he can think about is that meter.
All city council budget chairman Jim Strickland can think about is how the parking crackdown has raised five million bucks less than expected.
"The city court clerk did not institute the changes as quickly as we thought he was going to," he said.
What can they do about it? Absolutely nothing.
City Court Clerk Tom Long had argued for years for a crackdown on parking tickets; the city council agreed last summer. But the program was bogged down with legal issues and is still not working the way council members intended it. Tom Long is an elected official, and council members can't do a thing to him.
But the lack of fees is going to do something to you. It'll hit you right in the wallet.
"It's very important in respect to putting police on the street, paying our firefighters, picking up garbage," Strickland said. "We have a $17 million deficit this current year. $5 million would have been significant."