By Michael Gilbert
Palos Hills has changed the way residents can obtain permission for overnight parking on city streets, and those not in compliance risk receiving an $80 ticket.
Budget cuts approximately five years ago prompted the Palos Hills Police Department to scale back from being open at all times to 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, but since that time residents have been able to dial 911 after business hours to notify authorities they will have a car parked on the street overnight. The 911 calls were answered by operators from the Palos Heights-based Southwest Central Dispatch who would then send a log sheet over to Palos Hills police officers on duty overnight.
But just a few weeks ago, Palos Hills Police Chief Paul Madigan was notified by Southwest Central Dispatch that the task of fielding calls pertaining to overnight parking had become “too cumbersome” and was taking away from their other job duties.
“Since we don’t have the station open 24 hours anymore, Southwest Central Dispatch was doing us a courtesy and taking those calls,” Madigan said following the City Council meeting last Thursday. “But they told us it had become too cumbersome and they had to stop it. Southwest Central was just doing us a favor for a while but you can’t be taking them away from their 911 calls.”
Residents who do not notify the police department by the end of business hours that they intend to park a car on the street overnight are subject to an $80 ticket, Alderman AJ Pasek (3rd Ward) said. Pasek brought the issue of overnight parking up for discussion because in this month’s Palos Hills newsletter he wrote in his column space that residents should still dial 911 after hours. Unbeknownst to him - and just a few pages over from his column – Madigan wrote about the change in procedure and that 911 operators were no longer fielding calls for overnight parking.
“I’m writing one thing and the chief is writing another thing in the same newsletter,” Pasek said. “When I read that I was saying to myself ‘what the heck is going on here?’ It turns out the change had just happened so I just wanted to clarify the situation.”
Pasek said the overnight parking ban in Palos Hills dates back to at least the 1970s.
“The main reason for the ban is safety for emergency vehicles getting down the street,” Pasek said. “If there was a fire and a lot of fire trucks had to get into an area it could be tough. This way we know who is parking on the street and if there is a problem we can call and say ‘you’re going to have to move your car because we have an emergency situation.’”
Both Pasek and Alderman Joan Knox (1st Ward) brought up the idea of allowing people to leave a message of an answering machine if they intend to park a vehicle on the street overnight.
“If there name is on the answering machine and a ticket is issued then the police department just sends them a letter saying to disregard the ticket that was issued,” Pasek said.
The council did not make an official decision on whether or not to utilize an answering machine in the future.
Madigan said now that calling the police department is the only way to report overnight parking, officers will be keeping a closer watch on the three times a year limit. He said that while Southwest Central Dispatch was taking calls they did not keep a running total as to how many times a resident had phoned.
“What we have found out is that people were calling Southwest Central repeatedly and they didn’t have any way to track whether they were abusing it or not,” Madigan said. “There were certain people in town that were calling just about every week.”
Overnight parking rules and regulations will soon be posted on Palos Hills’ official website, Mayor Gerald Bennett said. Information may also be included in an upcoming water bill, city officials said.