CLEVELAND — Over the last three years, more than one out of every three parking fines has gone unpaid in the City of Cleveland, resulting in millions of dollars the city has not collected.
An analysis by 5 On Your Side Investigators discovered the city is owed $7.8 million in unpaid tickets over the last three years. The number balloons to a staggering $45.6 million in uncollected fines dating back to 2000, according to city records.
"Wow, that's a lot of money," said Nakisha Lewis, who showed up at the city's impound lot to pay $98 in parking fines last week. "They need to do better. If they can give out tickets, they can collect the money."
Parking fines go into the city's general fund, which pays for things like police and fire protection, as well as parks and street repairs.
"The system could always work better," said Obie Shelton, spokesman for Cleveland Clerk of Courts Earle Turner, whose office is responsible for collecting parking fines. "You are always trying to improve the program. It's a balancing act in terms of how aggressive we're going to be with our citizens."
The truth is, if you fail to pay one or two parking tickets in Cleveland you can face increased fines, but not much else will happen.
If you have three delinquent tickets, the city can place a registration hold on your vehicle with the state. That means you have to pay your tickets before you can renew your registration.
Shelton said the city issued 8,800 registration holds in 2019.
If you have five delinquent parking tickets, your car can be towed if it's found parked downtown.
Last year, the city says it towed 145 cars because of outstanding parking fines.
Yet nearly 36% of all parking fines issued by the city during the last three years remain uncollected.
"Do you feel you have a big enough hammer to hold over people's heads to get them to pay?" 5 On Your Side Investigators asked Shelton.
"We don't think of it as a hammer," said Shelton, "we think of it as a respectful way of getting the money that is owed the City of Cleveland."
As a comparison, since 2001 Columbus has $16.2 million in unpaid parking fines, and a collection rate of 87.5%, according to a spokesperson.
Unlike Cleveland, Columbus uses a collection agency to go after delinquent parking fines greater than $25.
Shelton said Cleveland used to utilize a collection agency but found it was not cost-effective.