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Get out the boot, but keep it out this time

Get out the boot, but keep it out this time

Editorial: Schenectady parking scofflaws won't respond to anything but being 'booted'

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy is right about one thing regarding his plan to crack down on parking scofflaws, who owe the city $2.3 million in outstanding fines: An amnesty period won’t work.

But if he thinks the city has a chance of collecting anything close to the $230,000 he’s plugged into next year’s budget proposal, he’s going to have to follow through on his threat to conduct an “aggressive” enforcement campaign — and to sustain it. Given the city’s track record with such crackdowns, we’re not very optimistic.

McCarthy may not have been on the City Council the last time the city cracked down on parking scofflaws — in 2003 — but he was around, and he remembers what happened: of $1.2 million in outstanding fines, an amnesty brought in a measly $11,000 in fines. Then the city “booted” cars belonging to a handful of the most egregious scofflaws and the campaign was soon forgotten.

Fast-forward a decade: The mountain of unpaid parking tickets has doubled, the city is broke and officials are once again threatening a crackdown. OK if they mean it, but as is often the case with enforcement issues in Schenectady — e.g. property owners not paying their taxes, landlords not getting rental certificates, etc. — the key is in mounting a sustained effort.

McCarthy sounds sincere when he promises to get tough, but what took him so long? Even as a city councilman, he should have realized that the city’s historic lack of follow-through on such issues has an emboldening effect on scofflaws.

But even if he really does mean it this time, it’s not going to be easy with depleted forces at the police department, code enforcement, etc. Unless he (and the City Council) provide the necessary resources (which costs money the city doesn’t have), then closely monitors everyone’s performance, the effort will once again wither and scofflaws will realize the coast is clear.

Why isn’t McCarthy proposing the one enforcement crackdown/revenue generator that wouldn’t depend on city employees to succeed: red-light cameras? Let Big Brother watch a handful of key intersections in the city, and when motorists run traffic lights, let the company the city contracts with send them the bill. This would solve safety and revenue problems without having to hire new employees or police existing ones to make sure they’re doing their job.

McCarthy has said a home-rule bill would be needed from the state Legislature, but that shouldn’t be an obstacle insofar as several municipalities around the state have already gotten them and gone this route. The time has never been better — unless the mayor thinks waiting for Moody’s to downgrade the city’s credit rating to junk status again makes more sense.

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