LACONIA — Seeking to stop people from blocking sidewalks and other violations, the City Council decided in a split vote Monday to move forward with a proposed ordinance to increase parking fines across the city.

The council set a Sept. 23 hearing to take public comment on the proposal and to vote on whether to adopt it. 

Under the plan, the fine for blocking a sidewalk would be $25 for a first offense, $75 for a second, and $150 for a third.

Fines for overtime parking would increase from $10 to $15, and fines for parking from midnight to sunrise, or in the street overnight during the winter or during a no-parking period — now all $10 — would increase to $25.

As currently written, the ordinance that prohibits blocking sidewalks is cumbersome. It requires a judge to impose the proper fine, according to a staff report submitted by Public Works Director Wes Anderson.   

“At any time during the year, but mostly during the winter, vehicles and other items are placed on the City’s sidewalks resulting in the sidewalks becoming impassable for pedestrians,” the report stated. “The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that sidewalks must have at least 48 inches clear of obstructions at all times. Thus sidewalks must be kept open for use by pedestrians at all times no matter the season.”

Councilor Mark Haynes said he has witnessed the problem.

“I had the opportunity to ride up and down the streets of Laconia first thing in the morning,” he said. “There are so many gross violations of people parked on the sidewalks, you’d have to walk on lawns to get by.”

He said some people regard $15 as “pocket change” and initially proposed that all parking fines should be increased to $25. After opposition from other councilors, he changed his motion to make the fine for overtime parking $15 and set other parking violations at $25. The staff had recommended $15 for all violations except parking on a sidewalk.

The council voted, 4-2, to give an initial first-reading approval of the fee schedule as amended by Haynes and to schedule a public hearing for the next City Council meeting.

Councilors David Bownes and Andrew Hosmer opposed increasing staff-recommended $15 fines to $25.

“We’re not going to generate any additional revenues that are going to make a difference, No. 1,” Bownes said. “And No. 2, it will make a difference to individuals. And No. 3, we ought to stay in step with what other communities are doing.”

Councilor Bruce Cheney, who was once police chief, voted with the majority in favor of the higher fines. He said people always have the opportunity to go to the police station and argue the ticket.

“Unless things have changed dramatically at the police department, people march into police headquarters every day of the week and b---- about tickets, and as many times as not, they get voided because they have an explanation; but for those times when people are willfully ignoring our ordinances, I think $25 is appropriate,” he said.

If you go:

The City Council will meet at 7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 23, on the second floor of City Hall, 45 Beacon St. East, to consider increasing the fine for most parking infractions to $25. Public testimony will be taken.

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