Investigative Voice, 29 Mar 2009 (Stephen Janis).
Budget deficits and falling tax revenues have forced local governments across the country to find new ways to raise cash, but Prince George's County officials are willing to go the extra yard – literally onto your yard – to pay the bills.
That’s what Clinton resident Mary Kay Calefati discovered when she happened upon a P.G. County revenue agent standing next to her home on March 23 issuing a ticket for her daughter's car – which was parked in the yard, parallel to the driveway.
“I see this man in a black uniform, no identification, standing 60 feet up my driveway, and I was like, 'What are you doing?' ” recalls the 50-year-old unemployed network engineer. “He said, 'I’m writing you a ticket for parking on the grass,' ” she says. “I said, 'What? Here?' And he got real smart and repeated it slowly, 'Parking...on...the...grass.' ”
“Then he got angry and wrote me another ticket,” she says, pointing to the spot where she had parked her car halfway on the narrow street and halfway on her front lawn, another apparent violation.
The total take for Prince George's County? A quick $100.
Stunned, Calefati learned the tickets were the result of a county law passed in 1978 prohibiting parking on grass, even if you own it. Calefati's mother, Nancy Lowery, 71, said the law has never been enforced – until now. “I’ve lived here for 44 years and I’ve never had this happen before. I think it's all about money."
Calefati soon learned she was not the only resident of this suburban community of compact single- family homes a few miles from Andrews Air Force Base who got cited; about 20 of her neighbors got tickets too. "Nobody was happy about it."
Complicating matters for Calefati and her family is the fact that Lowery’s car has been stolen twice, so parking on the street is not an option.
“I don’t want my daughter parking on the street at night,” Calefati says of her 24-year-old daughter, who works in Washington, D.C.
“You’ve had two recent murders in this area. I tell my daughter to park near the house because it’s safer, not because she’s lazy,” she said, referring to the series of shocking slayings of two sets of mothers and daughters that county police said last week may be related.
Not willing to simply pay the fines, Calefati complained to county officials, arguing the revenue authority was overreaching by ticketing a car parked near a driveway. But her pleas fell on deaf ears.
P.G. Revenue Authority Operations Director Troy Thompson said the tickets were part of a new and well-publicized county beautification program.
"Our "stepped-up" enforcement of parking violations is but one component of the County Executive's "Livable Communities Initiative,” Thompson wrote to Calefati in a March 24 e-mail. “In many instances, we combine forces with the Police Department, Housing Department and Permit Department in a task force designed to address all violations of County law in a particular community.”
Thompson did not respond to e-mails sent over the week-end for comment, but Calefati and her family are skeptical of his explanation.
“If they were serious about beautifying the county, they would have held a community meeting and explained the law to us.”
Indeed, P.G. County officials have been scrambling for cash to make up for a growing budget deficit. A push to raise the homestead property income tax cap recently failed during the General Assembly, leaving county officials to fill a $132 million budget gap for the next fiscal year – and Calefati skeptical.
(Posted 30 Mar 2009)