Merced County will consider increasing parking, vehicle penalties

Penalties for parking citations and vehicle infractions in Merced County might soon be going up, but officials said the increases are consistent with the penalties in the city of Merced and neighboring counties.

The Board of Supervisors last week unanimously voted to hold a public hearing about the proposed increases on Tuesday and possibly adopt the changes on April 22.

The proposed ordinance addresses several types of infractions, from parking in a red zone or handicapped space to obstructing a bike path. It also includes state vehicle infractions, such as missing license plates and expired registrations.

Most of the proposed increases would cost residents an extra $100. The biggest increases are those related to prohibited parking. For example, a citation for parking in a bus zone would soar from $250 to $1,105. Blocking a handicapped space or parking in one would more than quadruple, from $275 to $1,105. Parking over a line next to a handicapped space or near a sidewalk access ramp would also cost $1,105.

Parking over the time limit, blocking a driveway or double parking would be $28. Missing license plates would cost drivers about $197. Parking a commercial vehicle in a residential area would rise from $20 to $43, according to the proposed ordinance.

Assistant County Counsel Richard Flores said the county contracts with the Merced Police Department for parking enforcement at several county buildings, including the District Attorney’s Office, the courthouse and the county administration building on M Street.

The city of Merced increased its penalties about two years ago, which prompted the county to look at increasing its rates.

“The increases are basically the city of Merced’s increases that have been in effect for more than a year,” Flores said, adding that the city retains all revenue from the parking penalties. “We amended it simply to be consistent with the city of Merced’s amounts.”

Merced police Sgt. Jay Struble, who oversees the department’s traffic division, said most of the penalty rates are set by the state and were increased in 2011.

“The county is basically just aligning their fees with the state’s bail schedule,” Struble said. “Cost of living is going up and everything is adjusted to cost of living.”

Struble said the most common infractions are drivers who exceed posted time limits, not parking within designated lines, missing front license plates, improper registration tags or expired registration.

The Merced County Sheriff’s Department provides enforcement for the county’s unincorporated areas, according to Flores. The proposed higher penalties would bring Merced County closer to what other counties are charging, he said.

“The county increases are consistent with what the charges are for neighboring counties,” Flores said. “And they are relatively conservative when compared with bigger counties.”

Deputy Delray Shelton, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department, said it will enforce whatever increases are proposed by the county.

“The Merced County Sheriff’s office has no direct interest in increasing fees to hurt people; however, the increases are a common trend that you’re seeing on the state and city levels,” Shelton said. “The sheriff’s office just follows suit and direction with whatever the county sets their fees at, and enforces the ordinances and state vehicle codes.”

The first public hearing related to the proposed penalties will be 10 a.m. on Tuesday, followed by a second hearing and possible adoption at 10 a.m. on April 22 at the county administration building, 2222 M St.