The town of Sylva threatened parking scofflaws with a boot. And it worked. The boots, or wheel locks, have never been used. But they could.
“We still have them,” Sylva Manager Paige Dowling said. “Most of the overdue tickets were paid, and we have not had to use them. Parking gets a little bit worse in the summer.”
Town officials adopted a wheel lock ordinance in 2015 that lets police immobilize cars anywhere in town, aside from private property, if owners have tickets more than 90 days old.
The ordinance focuses heavily on downtown regulars to keep spaces open for downtown shoppers, Dowling said.
Rules established in 2010 prohibit workers, merchants and apartment-dwellers from parking in prime parking spaces from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. These are the ones on Main, Mill and Landis streets and along East Jackson Street from Spring to Evalina streets.
The town hired retired career law enforcement officer J.P. Gallardo to a part-time position in 2011 to patrol the downtown area and ticket violators.
All parking violations are covered in local ordinances, including the illegal use of fire lanes, handicapped spaces and loading zones, Dowling said.
Getting the heavy, steel locks off means paying a $25 fine, plus the original amount owed. If this isn’t done within 24 hours, the car gets towed and those fees must be paid as well.
Another reason the wheel locks are still in the warehouse is town participation in the League of Municipalities’ debt setoff program, Dowling said.
The program is a clearinghouse that allows municipal and county governments to garnish income tax refunds or winnings from the North Carolina Education Lottery.
The town modeled the ordinance on a similar local law used by the city of Asheville. After downtown workers asked the town about the legal basis of such an ordinance, officials sought enabling state legislation. Sen. Jim Davis, R-Macon, introduced a Sylva-specific bill that amended the town’s charter to include wheel-booting powers in 2015. The bill became law that summer.
The town currently has 36 tickets overdue by 90 days or more. The tickets initially are $25. If they aren’t paid in 30 days, the cost goes to $50.
The town has roughly $1,800 in outstanding tickets since 2016, Dowling said.