Published: Jul 07, 2010 6:33 PM EDT
Updated: Jul 07, 2010 3:34 PM EDT

LEE COUNTY, Fla.-- It's your money and some big corporations aren't being made to pay their fair share!  A Call for Action investigation reveals vanishing parking tickets - thousands of dollars worth of revenue - up in smoke.

A concerned citizen tipped us off that rental car companies were being let off the hook when it came to parking tickets.   So we did some digging, pored over thousands of citations, and found tens of thousands of dollars in parking tickets that went unpaid and got dismissed.  Our investigation uncovered nearly 1,100 parking tickets, worth nearly $37,000, all belonging to rental car companies. They went unpaid and were dismissed in Lee County in 2009. 

Enterprise, Alamo, National, Avis, Budget, Thrifty and Hertz all racked up big fines over the last decade.  So why aren't these companies paying up?

"The rental car companies are not following through and tracking down the drivers, the party who rented, so they go unpaid," Lee County Clerk of Court, Charlie Green, explains.

All of Lee County's unpaid tickets make their way through Green's office.

He tells WINK that his office, "eventually has to get them off the books."

Green realizes there's money to be made off of parking tickets, but cautions about being too aggressive.

"We're such a tourist-oriented destination, do we want to hassle the people that are bringing us money and spending their money in our community?  And helping us survive through this economic downturn when so many parking spots are so poorly defined?" Green asks.

Here's a look at how much it's costing you, the taxpayer, in lost revenue:

Enterprise - 87 tickets worth $2,940.75 were dismissed in 2009.  32 tickets remain unpaid and outstanding worth $1,702.

Alamo - 312 tickets worth $10,685.25 were dismissed in 2009.  241 tickets remain open worth $9,467.

National - 140 tickets worth $4,677.50 were dismissed in 2009.  20 tickets remain open worth $719.

Avis - 121 tickets worth $4,058.25 were dismissed in 2009.  25 tickets remain open worth $926.

Budget - 179 tickets worth $6,514.50 were dismissed in 2009.  9 tickets remain open worth $290.

Thrifty - 9 tickets worth $255 were dismissed in 2009.  13 tickets remain open worth $494.

Hertz - 228 tickets worth $7,766.75 were dismissed in 2009.  39 tickets remain open worth $1,961.

In total in 2009, Lee County dismissed 1,076 tickets worth $36,898.  Those tickets date back from 1994 to 2009 and were never paid.  To date, the car rental companies' names are attached to 379 unpaid tickets worth $15,559.  That brings the grand total of money the county is owed to $52,457.

And none of these totals include the late fees that are attached.

"Is it worth the goodwill?  The lack or the loss of goodwill?  Is it worth the effort, for instance, for a government agency, I'm not sure," says Green.   "I don't think so.  That's over a period of 16 years and $37,000 by the time you add benefits in, is about the cost of an entry level employee-- when you add in all the benefits and government costs.  So, for one person for one year to chase that may not be worth that," Green explains.

Most of the rental car agencies are in the same boat, as well.  They prefer to hand over the name of the renter responsible for paying the ticket to the county.  That way the rental car company doesn't have to spend time and resources tracking the renter down, the county does.  Or the car rental company hires a third-party business to keep track of all the tickets their renters rack up and go after the renters themselves.

We contacted all the rental agencies named in this story.  Here are their responses:

Avis/Budget:

"Parking tickets received from municipalities in the Fort Myers/Lee County area are sent to a third-party vendor, who handles the processing of these citations on our behalf.  <That company> sends the municipality the name of the renter and transfers liability or in the alternative, the ticket is paid and <the company> attempts to collect from the renter directly.  The renter is also assessed an administrative fee of $25 for processing."

Enterprise/Alamo/National:

Working with Lee County Clerk of Courts to resolve the problem. Their records reflect 80 tickets--they are working to resolve the discrepancy of outstanding tickets.

Hertz:

"Hertz complies with the law.  The relevant Ft. Myers/Lee County ordinances hold the driver responsible for
violations, including parking tickets.  Florida law creates a "rebuttable presumption" that the vehicle owner is responsible, but the owner is permitted to file an affidavit showing the vehicle was in the custody of someone else when the violation was committed.  When Hertz can determine a customer was in possession of the vehicle when the parking violation
occurred, we provide an affidavit which eliminates our liability.   When we cannot determine who had the car, we pay the fine.

We don't generally pay the fines because we are not liable when we comply with the law.  Finally, as a general rule we do not believe it is appropriate for car rental companies to be liable, financially or otherwise, for violations of law committed by their customers."

Thrifty:

No response yet.