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Advocates push for more transparency and equity in Wilmington’s fines and fees

Failure to follow parking procedures in City of Wilmington can constitute a parking ticket.
Quinn Kirkpatrick
Delaware Public Media
Failure to follow parking procedures in City of Wilmington can constitute a parking ticket.

Advocates continue to push for more transparency and equity in the City of Wilmington’s fines and fees

A new report from the University of Delaware’s Center for Community Research and Service at the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy & Administration examines fines and fees collected by Wilmington from parking and red light tickets, and their impact on residents.

The report was commissioned by theWilmington Fines and Fees Justice Team, a group of community and City Council members pushing for reforms in Wilmington’s fines and fees and collection practices.

It suggests flaws in the City’s current practices.

Revenue generated by fines and fees is not earmarked for any particular use. Instead, it goes into the City of Wilmington’s general revenue fund.

Fees and fines collected in the City of Wilmington accounted for 4.4% of that fund in 2022.

Since 2018, the cost to collect fines and fees from parking and red light violations has eaten a majority of the revenue.

Center for Community Research & Service
University of Delaware

Again in 2022, the report says the city only netted 44 cents of every dollar collected in fees and fines to use for other municipal services.

Residents, however, are heavily impacted.

The Wilmington Fines and Fees Justice Team’s Christian Willauer says the city’s current $40 parking violation is already high, and quickly escalates to higher amounts when not paid right away.

For example, in 90 days a $40 ticket increases to $100.

“If you are in economic circumstances where paying that extra $200 to $400 is a financial burden, there just can be spiraling impacts of parking tickets,” explained Willauer. “And our survey does show that people are facing those kinds of problems. They're putting off other bills to pay for parking tickets or red light tickets.”

Center for Community Research & Service
University of Delaware

69% of residents surveyed in the study indicated they had trouble paying fines and fees, and 56% incurred hardship to make the payments.

The study also indicates the economic burdens associated with parking and red light tickets disproportionately impact people of color.

The Fines and Fees Team supports Council Member Maria Cabrera’s ordinance to lower the initial ticket price to $25. It is expected to be considered at City Council’s Dec. 14th meeting.

But lowering initial ticket prices doesn’t address the root of the problem.

Ken Grant says the city needs to reevaluate its overall parking enforcement goals.

“If the goal is revenue generation then the city is doing what the city is doing. And unfortunately, based on the findings of this report, it looks like a majority of that revenue generation isn’t even for the City of Wilmington, it's for third party contractors,” he said.

In 2021, 53% of revenue generated from fines and fees went to enforcement expenses that were contracted out.

Grant argues the city’s priorities should not be on revenue generation, but on traffic flow and increased safety.

In a statement released to Delaware Public Media, City Finance Director Brett Taylor counters Grant’s point.

He says that while the city acknowledges findings in the report related to the inefficiency of fines and fees as a revenue source, generating revenue is not the purpose for assessing fines.

“The purpose of fines is to uphold public safety, preserve the proper flow of traffic and parking options, support local businesses (commerce), and support sufficient parking in City neighborhoods,” said Taylor.

City officials raised a few concerns about other areas of the report, including the small sample size used, and the study’s characterization of ticket revenue rising.

Taylor claims parking ticket revenue is down in 2023 and red light revenue is up because of a change made in 2020 to address the high number of accidents at intersections. 10 new DelDOT approved cameras were added, increasing the opportunity for ticketing.

While Mayor Mike Purzycki’s administration does support Council Member Cabrera’s ordinance to lower ticket prices, they do not believe systemic changes are needed in the Wilmington fines and fees system.

“The City believes that its fines and fees system and process represents the best interests of the public,” said John Rago, Deputy Chief of Staff, Office of the Mayor.

Read the full report below:

Quinn Kirkpatrick was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, and graduated from the University of Delaware. She joined Delaware Public Media in June 2021.