MUSCATINE — Residents who received impoundment notices for unpaid parking tickets should pay their tickets, city officials said this week, but are likely not at risk of having their car towed.
Around 20 Muscatine residents have spoken out on social media or at City Hall this week, questioning if the impoundment notices they received were legal. For example, on Aug. 24, resident Becky Bejarano was sent an impoundment notice about an alleged traffic ticket from November 2016.
Bejarano did not remember receiving the ticket and claimed she always pays tickets from expired parking meters on time.
"I was a little upset, actually a lot," she said. "Because you look at the word 'impoundment' and you know, that just seems crazy."
Muscatine City Code, updated in 2015, states a vehicle can be impounded if it has 10 or more outstanding, unpaid parking violations, for which payment is late 30 days or more.
When residents who received notices said they did not have multiple outstanding parking violations, Muscatine Finance Director Nancy Lueck said the city realized there was an error on the form. Lueck said the notices should inform residents they have a delinquent or unpaid ticket, not that impoundment is possible.
The tickets, Lueck said, are still valid and should be paid.
When a vehicle is parked at an expired meter or is there beyond the allotted time period, Lueck said, drivers are ticketed. The fine costs $10, or $5 if it is paid within 72 hours. Once a month, the city sends out notices to people who have unpaid tickets, she said.
If delinquent tickets remain unpaid, residents receive a second notice that the fine is past due. If payment is not received at that point, in some cases, the vehicle information may be forwarded to the county treasurer, and drivers will be required to pay the fine before renewing their vehicle registration.
Lueck said the city is permitted to impound vehicles, but by restricting vehicle registration renewal, the city cut back on the number of vehicles it impounds.
"Before we had it set up with the county treasurer to do that, we did periodically impound vehicles, but since we have had the process in place, we have not," she said. "But it still allows for us to [impound if a vehicle] accumulates a large amount of parking tickets."
If a person receives more than 20 tickets in the same calendar year, any additional tickets will cost $25.
"Occasionally, we do have a couple of people every year who do reach that level," she said.
Muscatine residents who have fewer than 10 unpaid parking tickets should pay fines at the Finance Department in City Hall or online.
Impoundment notices were printed using city software that included templates based on previous city code. Lueck said. In the notices, it was written the parking violation is under City Code Section 7-15-15, which was a part of the previous code. After the new city code was adopted in 2015, the section dealing with parking violations became 7-1-12.
Lueck said the notices going out now have been corrected, but all remain valid.
In response to residents disputing the issue on social media, city of Muscatine spokesman Kevin Jenison wrote on Facebook, "Speaking on behalf of the city of Muscatine, we appreciate the feedback and acknowledge that the word 'impound' was incorrect on the form that was sent out. As we informed people who called or stopped by our office, that form has now been corrected as the notice was for delinquent parking tickets only.
"Vehicles are only impounded after 10 unpaid parking violations, according to City Code," he continued. "Again, we appreciate you bringing this to the city's attention and we apologize for the error in the letter. Please do not hesitate to contact city staff if you have a concern or question."
City code states peace officers are allowed to remove vehicles under the following circumstances: if a vehicle is disabled and causes an obstruction; if a vehicle is left unattended and illegally parked; if a vehicle is parked in violation of snow removal procedure; if a vehicle is left parked for a continuous period in violation of any limited parking time; or if a vehicle is junked or obsolete.
In addition to standard penalties, the code states the owner of an impounded vehicle will be required to pay the cost of towing and storage.