More than two years after the Kyle City Council passed an ordinance designed in part to lower parking fines, residents began getting refunds for overcharges.
Council member Rick Koch, who is also now mayor pro tem, began trying to get the fines lowered while he was still a private citizen. He finished the job at the council’s Dec. 17 meeting. Council okayed by a unanimous vote both an amended parking ordinance and the refunding of about $12,000 to people who had overpaid.
The basis of the overpayment, Koch said, was that police were writing parking tickets based on state statute and not the city ordinance, even after the latter was passed in August 2017.
But what in Koch’s words is a “long, drawn-out” story, starts before that. Sometime in late 2016, he said, city police initiated community-wide parking enforcement and began writing tickets in neighborhoods including Hometown Kyle and Silverado, for offenses such as people parking in the wrong direction in front of their houses — technically illegal, but something that some had been doing for years.
He said the next shock came when those ticketed went to settle up and found they owed not an expected $30 to $40, but instead $150 because the tickets were being written based on the state’s fee schedule.
“It created an outrage online, on social media,” Koch said. That erupted around the time he was appointed to the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission, and he and fellow commissioner Brad Growt “thought maybe we could do something,” and started digging. “We found we did not have a parking ordinance, which is how cities go about regulating, basically lowering the amount of the fines.”
The two brought their concerns to those who were then in charge at City Hall, wanting to know what could be done to lower the fines. “We didn’t feel like the crime justified the amount,” said Koch. They copied and pasted pieces of ordinances from cities like Buda, San Marcos, Austin and San Antonio and turned that over to City Hall, thinking they had helped to solve a problem.
Fast-forward to August 2017 when the city passed its ordinance. Then fast-forward to October 2019, when Koch discovered that the portion of the ordinance that lowered parking fines was never implemented. “For two years they were supposed to have gotten the fines at reduced rates.”
Once he won a seat on the council, Koch became even more committed to fair fines for violations, something he said led to a rigamarole.
“It turned out it wasn’t implemented correctly. It basically slipped through cracks … ticket readers weren’t upgraded … none of it was relayed. It didn’t work its way through the city.”
Others on the dais relayed their feelings about it all during the Dec. 17 meeting.
“Thanks for sticking with it,” Council member Alex Villalobos said. “Some of those fees were fairly significant.” He added that he was grateful that “we are providing some certain level of relief to people fined inappropriately.”
“It was an oversight on our part,” said Mayor Travis Mitchell, “but there’s a lot of understanding and sympathy as our city has grown from 5,000 to 50,000. Ordinances have grown more complex,” as has the city’s understanding of “what we can and cannot do.
He called the refunding effort a “fantastic demonstration” that the city admit its own mistakes. “Every person involved at staff level has owned it and stepped forward.”
“When this passed in 2017 we meant to do good,” said Council member Daphne Tenorio. “We were hoping to solve the issues we had to do with parking concerns. We assumed everything would move forward the way we laid it out. It was a glitch. We not only corrected it but rectified it with assurances it will no longer happen – that’s one way we can show we’re really working together to quantify our mistakes and own them.”
Letters to affected residents – along with enclosed checks – went out Dec. 18 from the office of City Manager Scott Sellers. “Please accept our apology for this oversight and for any inconvenience this may have caused you,” the letters said in part.
Koch reiterated that city staff has been supportive since the error was discovered. “From this point on, everything that we pass, how do we know it’s actually being applied?” he asked.
“It’s step one toward the new accountability system we’re trying to implement.”