Parking-ticket scofflaws are getting the boot in downtown Steamboat Springs -- at last.
Mike Antram of Steamboat Springs was startled Tuesday morning when he went out to his car and noticed a police officer working at his left front wheel.
"I was pretty surprised, actually," Antram said. "I came back to my car literally as he's putting the lock on the boot. I said, 'You've got to be kidding!'"
Antram's car had been immobilized by the city's long-unused parking "boot." It's a device that clamps onto the wheel and has a metal armature that prevents the wheel from moving. The intent is to encourage the vehicle's owner to pay overdue fines so he can get his car back.
The city has owned its boot for several years but has not made use of it until now.
Antram accepted being booted with good humor. He walked over to city hall and paid $210 in overdue parking fines, and the boot was removed from his sedan. He said he works downtown and has been ticketed for exceeding the two-hour limit.
"They told me I was the first one," Antram said. "I think I should get a plaque or a little piece of paper."
The city announced in June that it would crack down on about $71,000 in unpaid parking tickets. City Transit Director George Krawzoff said he hired a new parking monitor last summer and didn't push her to resort to the boot. However City Manager Paul Hughes made it clear this fall that he wanted the boot to be used this winter. The current parking monitor is Joe Fontaine.
Krawzoff said Antram is far from the worst offender when it comes to overdue parking fines, and more people can expect to find the boot on their car wheels if they don't pay their outstanding tickets.
"The intent is not to make money, and there's no quota for the officer," Krawzoff said. "The idea is to get compliance, not money."
City officials want to see people obey the two-hour time limit on parking spaces in the downtown commercial district, where cars sometimes hog spaces for much longer.
The city reported in June that a small group of people accounts for a large percentage of the unpaid fines -- 20 to 30 vehicle owners had a combined $29,000 in fines last June. But the average amount of unpaid fines per vehicle owner is between $300 and $600.
The fee for getting the boot taken off, once outstanding fines are paid, is an additional $25, municipal court clerk Mary Hayes said.
Hayes said the revised municipal code provides for "booting" a vehicle when records show the owner has three or more outstanding tickets. The parking monitor doesn't place the boot on the car -- a police officer is summoned to take care of that detail.
Hayes said a first-time parking offense nets a warning, without a fine. But the second offense results in a $10 ticket, and that amount doubles if it isn't paid within 14 days. A third ticket doubles to $20, the fourth is $40 and subsequent fines top out at $80.
When a vehicle owner gets his or her third ticket, the computer system at the city prints a letter to the owner notifying him or her of the sanctions they face. The letter itself kicks in another $20 fee.
Antram said he contacted a few acquaintances Tuesday to make certain they have paid their parking tickets.