Ticket payments in limbo in St. Louis

Tuesday, March 17, 2009 | 11:46 a.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — Some people who thought they paid parking tickets in St. Louis could be in for a surprise.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on Tuesday that the city missed a $53 semiannual lease charge on its post office box, causing U.S. Postal Service employees to close it on Feb. 19. The box was reopened Thursday.

But payments sent during the three-week period were either returned or, if they lacked a return address on the envelope, rerouted to a dead-letter office in St. Paul, Minn., Postal Service spokeswoman Valerie Hughes said.

That means some parking violators may not know for weeks whether the city received their payment. A spokesman for the Parking Violations Bureau would not estimate how many people were impacted by the mix-up.

Parking tickets range widely in cost. A ticket for an expired meter or parking on a street-cleaning day can be as little as $10; parking in a spot set aside for disabled drivers can cost $75. Tickets usually double if not paid in 15 days, and the original fine triples if 45 days past due.

"There will be no late-payment fees for people who had their checks tied up in the mail," said Steve Baker, the director of planning and support services for the city treasurer's office, which oversees parking enforcement.

The problem with late-fee amnesty, Baker said, is that there's no way of knowing whether someone actually mailed a payment. Violators who simply forgot about their tickets could try to exploit the situation to get out of their late fees, too. "And they're going to be coming out of the woodwork," he said.

Baker said about 30 people already have come forward claiming their payments were returned to them because of the mix-up. He wouldn't guess how many mailed payments the Parking Violations Bureau gets in a typical week. Most payments, he said, are made over the phone, online or in person.

A city contractor, Dallas-based Allied Computer Services, processes those payments and staffs the ticket payment center downtown. The company was supposed to pay for the post office box, too.

In a written statement, the company called the mix-up "an administrative oversight."


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