Parking tickets spark complaints in Kulpmont
KULPMONT - Forty-one vehicles were ticketed for parking on Chestnut Street during a snow emergency Tuesday morning, prompting a deluge of complaints from violators who were hit with $100 fines.
It didn't help that only 1 inch of snow fell from an expected accumulation of 3 to 6.
As the snow was tapering off about 5 a.m., Police Chief Michael Pitcavage began issuing tickets. When he returned to the station, the phone was ringing off the hook.
"We got numerous complaints," he said. "I took calls right and left."
It was Mayor Bernard Novakoski who made the call to declare a snow emergency for Chestnut Street, which is also state Route 61. It was effective at 8 p.m. Monday. He sent notices Monday afternoon to local TV and radio stations and The News-Item.
But some people said that wasn't enough time for them to move their vehicles, and they also questioned how an "emergency" could be declared for just 1 inch of snow.
Pitcavage and Novakoski were greeted by upset citizens at their offices at borough hall about 10 a.m.
"It's amazing that we are getting a ticket for an inch of snow," Charles Adams said. "You guys put it in the paper that is published and received around the same time we are getting the tickets."
"We put it out to every media outlet," Novakoski said. "It's not our fault you didn't get the message."
Adams said in 11 years of living in the borough, he never got a ticket for a snowfall that was less than 6 inches.
"How can we get a ticket for the snow we didn't get?" Adams said.
While five snowfalls in the past two weeks had already created large piles along the curbs, forecasts for another storm starting overnight and lasting until midday Tuesday prompted the mayor to issue the latest snow emergency. When a snow emergency is declared, all parking on Chestnut Street is prohibited until the snow stops and is plowed back to the curb by PennDOT.
The parking ban was lifted at noon Tuesday when PennDOT plow drivers said they could not plow back anymore than due to accumulation of ice and snow from previous storms.
Driving through town Tuesday morning, at least 20 vehicles were still parked along Chestnut Street, citations tucked on under windshield wipers as the PennDOT plow truck swept around them.
Candi Bucher, a resident in the 1400 block of Chestnut Street, said she saw nothing on TV Monday night. But at 6:45 a.m. Tuesday she got a message from her cousin, who lives in the 1500 block of Chestnut. Two of her vehicles had been ticketed, and so was Bucher's.
"That $100 is my monthly gas bill," Bucher said. "I think this is absolutely insane. If all these people got tickets, don't you think that would have given them a hint that people weren't properly notified?"
A relative of Bucher's who tracked down a borough worker Tuesday morning was told the notice was in Monday's paper.
"I dug my paper out of the trash to check, there was no notification in it," she said.
The notice issued Monday afternoon was not published until Tuesday.
Novakoski, who just began his role as mayor in January, said he was up all night Monday trying to track the storm.
"I kept looking at my phone, trying to see when the storm would hit and for how long," he said.
He said that he heard from a PennDOT official Monday to prepare for a storm of 4 to 7 inches.
"I heard about four different forecasts through different outlets, but I finally picked one and went with it," Novakoski said.
Mason said PennDOT receives their reports from Accu-Weather, which forecast a snowfall of 3 to 6 inches Monday night through Tuesday morning.
In the past, snow emergencies in Kulpmont were declared when weather forecasters predicted a snowfall of 6 inches of more.
Rick Mason, community relations coordinator for PennDOT maintenance district 3-0, said the determination of a snow emergency is made at the local level.
Northumberland County EMA coordinator Stephen Jeffery confirmed it's the mayor's call.
"The only way that the mayor could be overridden is if the county commissioners declared an emergency, but that didn't happen," Jeffery said.
Novakoski said he understood the residents' plight, but did not offer any sympathy.
"There are signs posted along the route. Maybe a good rule of thumb should be if they are forecasting for snow, move their cars," the mayor said.
"I have a private parking spot behind my house that I wouldn't have a problem using if the borough didn't plow the snow into it," Bucher replied. "The issue is we weren't given proper notification about moving our vehicles."
Pitcavage said if residents don't pay the fine, the ticket becomes a citation that can be contested in magisterial district court. But if the violator is found guilty, the fine could be tripled.
Adams said he's willing to take that risk.
"I'm definitely going to fight this," he said. "This is money that they are taking from heating bills. They need to better inform us."