City of PA subjecting residents to unreasonable fines
Original post made by a concerned resident, Midtown, on Apr 10, 2009
More than a year and half went by and our house has continued to be peacefully monitored by the alarm company with no incidents. Then suddenly we get a letter in the mail from the city that we are delinquent in paying our alarm permit fees and they are fining us $250. We were surprised with this letter since we were not aware that we had been delinquent. We never received a renewal notice from the city. If we had we would have paid it promptly. We have an impeccable credit history and have paid our bills on time all our lives.
We called the city and told them that we never received the renewal notice and it did not occur to us that we needed to proactively pay the $35 annually since it was not something that was an established routine for us since we were new to the city. The city clerk said that it was not their problem that we did not receive the renewal notice. It is only a courtesy that they send the renewal notice and hence the fine would not be waived. She gave us an option to have a hearing of our case with the city administrative officer. We went ahead and scheduled the hearing and my wife went over to present our case last week. At the hearing there were nearly half a dozen other residents that had similar issues. In fact, the person before my wife was a 10-year resident of Palo Alto with a record of paying his alarm permit fees on time every year except this year when he did not receive a renewal notice. The officer questioned the clerk on whether she was sure that she mailed out the notices. He then told my wife and others that he would get back the following week with a final decision. On a side note, the clerk mentioned that not paying the $35 on time was an offense that could be prosecuted with jail time, but the city was instead letting us off with just a $250 fine. I think this statement was somewhat offensive and borderline indirect bullying.
We heard back from the city administrator this week and he said that the city has made a final decision that the fine will stand. Firstly, we find this decision unfair given the circumstances and the fact that they did not even send us a warning before fining us. Secondly, we think $250 is an unreasonable fine for a $35 payment(let alone telling us that we can be put in jail.) They could have at least reduced the fine given that we made a good faith attempt to explain ourselves. We understand the city is in budget difficulties, but this is no way to treat its residents. Such a fine seems onerous and shows no respect for good tax-paying citizens that did not intend to do something willful or unlawful.
I am a proud resident of Palo Alto and it just feels irresponsible to let this go without some further action on my part to ensure that other residents don't get treated the same way. Hence, this posting.
My open question to the community is, what do I do next? Just suck it up, pay the fine and move on? Or pay the fine and dispute it in some manner? Or bring this issue up in front of some forum? As you can imagine $250 is too small an amount to pursue a legal route. But $250 is not a trivial amount especially in this economic environment.