07/27/06 — Fines to be levied for improper handicap parking signs

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Fines to be levied for improper handicap parking signs

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on July 27, 2006 1:50 PM

When the Mayor's Committee for Persons with Disabilities submitted its survey on handicapped parking to the city, Goldsboro's Chief Building Inspector Ed Cianfarra promised he and his staff would take whatever measures necessary to get the more than 700 businesses not in compliance up to code.

Earlier this month, Cianfarra and his team started the long road to living up to that pledge, he said. As of today, more than 450 businesses guilty of the "most grievous violations" have received a letter from the Inspections Department, urging them to fix the problem or face fines.

"I gave them a time limit," Cianfarra said, adding that by Aug. 1, each of the businesses is to be in compliance with federal handicapped parking standards. "At the end of that time limit, we're going to start checking. If we come across businesses that haven't done it, I'm going to give them a very short period of time, probably 10 days, to get it straight. After that, I'm going to start fining them under the civil penalties fine, which starts out at $50 a day and can go all the way up to $250 a day."

While the first batch of letters was only sent to those businesses with the most severe violations, Cianfarra added all of those who don't meet federal guidelines will get theirs soon enough.

"When we get those 450 cleared up, and that's going to take a while, we're going to get to the others," he said.

Most of the businesses that have already received their letters have no handicapped parking at all, Cianfarra said. Others simply didn't change their signs as laws were renewed and revised.

"We've gotten a tremendous amount of response from the people," he said. "We explained the issue to a lot of people who couldn't make heads or tails of it. We have a lot of $100 fine signs out there, for example. Now, they have to be marked $250."

Another problem, Cianfarra added, is that many local stores aren't selling the proper signs. Businesses can check the correct dimensions, colors and ways to display handicapped signs in the brochure, which is available on the first floor of City Hall, in the Inspections Department.

"There are signs being sold in town that are not correct," he said. "I have no problem explaining to folks what the correct signs should look like. But buying the wrong signs isn't helping anyone."

Despite his willingness to hand out fines to those who refuse to make the necessary changes, collecting money is not the city's goal, Cianfarra said. Protecting Goldsboro and its taxpayers is.

"I'm not looking forward to fining anyone or any business," he said. "But people need to understand that this is a federal law that the people of Goldsboro have to come into compliance with. And what everybody else needs to understand is that if we do not come into compliance, the city of Goldsboro has the possibility of being sued by the federal government. I am not going to waste the taxpayers money by allowing that to happen. Their fines start at $10,000 a day and work up from there."

To this end, Cianfarra's staff included a brochure with the letter, to give businesses a clear understanding of the code in hopes of avoiding having to fine local residents.

Federal law requires businesses to create one handicapped spot for every 25 in their lot. Cianfarra said before the baby boomers starting aging, businesses were required to have 1 for every 50.

"There are numerous places in Goldsboro that have existed for many, many years that have to change with the times," he said. "The baby boomers, they are the ones becoming disabled. They represent the largest part of our population."

Cianfarra said he understands that many businesses don't want to spend money on something they might feel is a "small issue." But the issue is bigger than they know, and in the long run, the money businesses will spend to come into compliance is far less than the amount of money in fines they will face from the city.

"I'm coming," he said. "I don't have any problem doing that. I have given everyone a fair amount of time and if they don't make a change, they will be fined."

But more important than fines is compassion for those members of the community who need the spaces, he said.

"If I'm a business, and I don't get my handicapped signs in compliance, I think that sends the message that I am not interested in any American with some type of disability who might come park at my place," Cianfarra said. "I think that's a bad message to send out. I've made Goldsboro my home since 1968, and I think the citizens see the severity of the problem. I think that a lot of them just haven't paid attention to the fact that their signs are out of date."