A new program in Vermont's largest city aims to take some of the sting out of settling up unpaid parking tickets by directing half the money to charity.
"We're trying to think in these more creative ways," said Jeff Padgett, who heads the parking and traffic division of the Burlington Department of Public Works.
The division's pilot program, Fines for Food, hopes to inspire action from people who have been dragging their heels and building up what Padgett said is roughly $900,000 in overdue fees owed to the city.
Burlington announced that, between now and Jan. 15, it will donate half the money collected from payment of overdue fines to Feeding Chittenden, Vermont's largest direct service provider for emergency food needs.
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"I'm sure there are lots of different incentivized ideas around the country, but this is one seems pretty innovative," Feeding Chittenden's Rob Meehan said. "The pandemic has been really hard for people that are experiencing hunger, as you know. And so this was one more way to try to make sure we can get food to people in need."
Burlington City Councilor Karen Paul, D-Ward 6, pushed for the Fines for Food program.
"It was unanimous," Paul said of councilors' support for Fines for Food. "Most people don't really like getting parking tickets. It has a way of sort of ruining your day. And nobody likes paying for them. This is the time to be paying for them. This is the time to feel good about paying a parking ticket."
Helping charity may put a positive spin on the experience of paying a ticket, but there is also a stern message here.
People who owe $275 or more in delinquent fines will soon be at risk of having their cars towed and impounded if they have future violations, Padgett said. The practice was put on hold during the pandemic but will be returning in February, the city announced.
Approximately 500 people have balances high enough to trigger towing and impounding if future cases arise, Padgett said. He noted that if those drivers pay their fines now, not only do they avoid the tow truck, but will feed a neighbor in the process.
To pay overdue parking tickets online, visit this website or go in-person to the public works building at 645 Pine Street in Burlington weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Padgett said he is looking forward to seeing how effective Fines for Food is.
"If we have some success in this program this year, then we can come back at it next year," he noted.