City officials announced in late February that 92 people who collectively owe $70,000 for unpaid parking tickets and fines could face the "booting" and towing of their vehicles as early as March 29.

Mayor John Stromberg is worried that the city of Ashland's recent decision to crack down on people with more than five unpaid parking tickets will alienate the already stressed business community.

City officials announced in late February that 92 people who collectively owe $70,000 for unpaid parking tickets and fines could face the "booting" and towing of their vehicles as early as March 29. They would have to pay their tickets and fines in order to get their vehicles back.

Some of the violators are people who work downtown or who visit the downtown regularly.

A boot is a metal device that fits around a wheel to immobilize a vehicle.

"There's something about booting that is blunt and heavy-handed," Stromberg said this week. "The tone it sets for visitors and the public is something we should be sensitive to."

In addition to dealing with tough economic times, Stromberg said the Ashland business community feels battered by city voters' recent renewal of the 5 percent sales tax on prepared food and drinks, and by state voters' passage of measures 66 and 67. The state measures raised taxes on some businesses and high-income people.

"There's a tendency to lose a sense of trust and connection to government," Stromberg said, adding that hard feelings could set the stage for "more extreme elements" to gain political power.

Ashland City Councilor Eric Navickas agreed with Stromberg.

"It's a public relations nightmare for us to put boots on cars," he said.

City Administrator Martha Bennett said the city may get complaints about the booting and towing of vehicles, but officials already are getting complaints from some members of the community that the city is not doing enough to enforce parking rules.

In 2008, the City Council gave city staff the authority to have vehicles booted and towed.

The people who could have their vehicles booted and towed this month already have received seven notices — with two of those coming from a collections agency. They will receive two additional warning letters. If they don't arrange a payment plan and their vehicles are found on public streets or public property, the vehicles could be booted and then towed 24 hours later.

Once a vehicle is booted, fines must be paid in full, with no possibility of a payment plan.

City Councilor Kate Jackson said only the most egregious violators of parking rules face the risk of having their vehicles booted and towed.

Councilor David Chapman said booting and towing is a reasonable tool for city officials to use on people who otherwise may never pay their parking tickets and fines.

His personal preference for dealing with the scofflaws would be much more Draconian.

"My solution is to take their car and crush it and put it in their driveway," he said.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.