Oklahoma City is owed more than $13 million in unpaid parking and traffic tickets, with some dating back to the mid-’90s.
Records show the city is owed $11,893,192 in unpaid traffic tickets and $1,410,675 in unpaid parking tickets.
Combined, that is more than half the roughly $20 million the city collects each year in parking and traffic violations.
But despite the large number of unpaid tickets, city officials said they are efficient in collections, receiving payments from about 90 percent of the tickets issued each year.
And for the rest, the longer it takes someone to pay, the worse it’s going to be when the city finally tracks them down.
How they collect
Oklahoma City handles parking and traffic tickets much like any municipality would. You get a ticket, and you have a certain amount of time to pay. If you don’t, they don’t forget about it.
Each time the city has to make an effort to track a person down or notify them of unpaid fines, the cost is added to the original fine.
Stacey Davis, director of Oklahoma City Court Administration, said that is why the unpaid amount looks so high. More than half the money owed has been added on since the ticket was written.
“The less you make us do, the cheaper it is,” Davis said. “If you don’t do what you’re supposed to do, it’s a downward spiral. And it can go down fast.”
Davis said the city starts the collection process by sending out first and secondary notices.
In the meantime, the city can place a boot on a car for unpaid parking fines.
But if the person ignores the notices for a couple weeks, the city will issue a warrant for that person’s arrest and court marshals begin the process of tracking the person down.
Bob Tunnel, chief deputy marshal, said he has as many as eight marshals out every day rounding people up on arrest warrants for myriad charges. But a good chunk of those result from unpaid parking tickets.
“It happens every day,” Tunnel said.
The marshals fan out around the city to scout addresses, go to houses and bring people in to face their fines.
Another way marshals bring people in is by checking all the jail logs from surrounding counties and cities to see if there’s anyone who has a warrant.
Additionally, there’s a deputy who works at the counter where people come to pay their fines.
“You’d be surprised how many people who come in here, and they’re mad about one ticket,” Davis said. “But the other five they owe money on, they don’t want to talk about those.”
Marshals can place people under arrest for their unpaid fines, though they are not normally booked into county jail if they can pay the fine amount that day.
Most of the warrants that get served, however, are the more recent ones, Tunnel said. Although the warrants don’t ever go away, if a person avoids arrest for long enough, the file can be sent to a debt collection service, adding yet another cost to the original fine.
How people avoid payment
Although there is an established system for collecting payment from traffic and parking violations, people inevitably slip through the cracks.
Davis said some people don’t care about paying their tickets or simply can’t.
Parking tickets are more difficult to begin with, he said, because the ticket is issued to a car, not a person.
People borrow and sell cars all the time, he said, which makes it difficult to prove which person owes the money.
But with both parking and traffic, one of the more common situations, he said, is when a person from out of state gets a ticket and leaves.
“We don’t have much leverage,” Davis said. “We can go get somebody with a warrant in Oklahoma, but imagine a guy who lives in Minnesota. There’s not much we can do.”
For traffic tickets, Davis said a report can be made to the Department of Public Safety, which can in turn suspend a driver’s license. But even that doesn’t work sometimes, he said.
Sometimes people die before they pay their tickets, and some end up in prison with no money.
“We had a guy call here the other day asking if he had any unpaid tickets,” Davis said. “He had been in prison for 23 years.”
What about the money?
Because more than half of the $13 million in unpaid fines came from the court and collection costs, that money would go to court and court administration.
The rest, about $6 million, would go to the city’s general fund, which pays for the city’s roads and employees, among other things.
The city’s annual budget is more than $1 billion, so an extra $6 million would not make any substantial change.
But Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said it could still be useful for the city.
Cornett said if the city had another $6 million in its budget, it could afford to hire 10 firefighters or 10 police officers, who cost about $100,000 each to employ per year.
•Pay by mail: Enclose a copy of your ticket, write the ticket number on your check or money order — or write your credit card information in the space provided on the back of the ticket — and mail it to:
Note: Don’t mail cash.
•Pay by phone: Use your Visa, MasterCard or Discover card to pay over the telephone.
Call 297-2361 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
•Pay in person: You can pay fines in person between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., seven days a week at the Municipal Court Building, 700 Couch Drive.