A bylaw passed May 29 gives the city new powers to force property owners to pay their parking tickets and other fines.
Effectively immediately, if you’re the sole owner of a piece of land in Greater Sudbury, the city will add any outstanding Provincial Offences Act fines to your property taxes on the next bill you receive. And any costs related to determining whether you are the sole property owner will be passed on, as well.
Unpaid fines are a major issue in Ontario, where more than $1 billion is owed. In Toronto, for example, more than half of all Provincial Offences Act fines are unpaid. The $36 million owed in unpaid fines would cover the entire deficit of the Toronto Transit Commission.
In Sudbury in 2009 alone, more than $1 million of $3 million in fines were unpaid. The accumulated total owed to the city is $16.8 million, with some fines dating back to the 1970s and ’80s.
“Fines never go away,” said City Clerk Caroline Hallsworth in an interview. Hallsworth prepared the report for city council recommending the bylaw. “The only way for a fine to be resolved is to pay it. There’s no time limit on paying fines. Obviously if there was, people would never pay them.”
Hallsworth said as it stands now, no interest is charged on old fines, although that could change. However, some fines increase the longer you take to pay them, such as parking tickets.
Fines include Highway Traffic Act offences, such as speeding, Occupational Health and Safety Act offences, trespassing fines and smoking and liquor fines. By far the biggest are fines related to drivers being caught without insurance, which penalties run as high as $5,000. In 2009, Ontarians owed more than $354 million for insurance-related fines alone.
The city already has several ways to collect such debts, such as suspending your driver’s license, refusing license plate renewals - even seizure of land or bank accounts, in some cases. The new bylaw is a result of changes to the Municipal Act passed in 2010. The goal was to make it easier for towns and cities to collect outstanding fines.
Hallsworth said the city’s goal is to collect as much of the outstanding fines as possible.
“We don’t have a specific financial target,” she said. “Fines are on the books until they are paid in full, so our goal always is to collect the fines that are owing.”
However, other cities, such as Brampton and Toronto, have already passed similar bylaws and have seen an increase in collections.
Brampton, for example, has been adding fines to property tax bills since November 2010. City staff says that of $284,000 in fines that have been added to taxes since then, they have collected $168,000, and expect to get the full amount over time.
“We know from our conversations with them that they have been able to collect (increased) revenue by adding the fines to the tax rolls,” she said.
But “the legislation does not permit fines being attached to properties with joint or multiple owners,” Hallsworth wrote in her report.
“Criteria to be used prior to a fine being added to the tax roll would include that the offence is in default and that the individual or corporation has received last and final notice.”
Staff has developed a process to verify that the person who owes the fine is the same person who owns the property. The cost of verifying this will be passed on to the property owner.
“The experience in other municipalities has been that, while there are a limited number of offences which can be applied to the tax rolls … some accounts yield results and the outstanding fines are paid.”
She also wrote that municipal lobby groups are advocating the government allow outstanding fines be added to the tax roll of any property owned – even partially – by someone who has outstanding fines.
The recent Drummond Report, a comprehensive plan to help Ontario balance its books, included a recommendation to allow municipalities to collect fines by adding them to taxes on properties with multiple owners.
Posted by Arron Pickard