More than 200 students with vehicles parked in the residential college parking lots and near Roy Stewart Stadium were greeted Monday morning by yellow Notice of Violation tickets from the Murray Police Department.
The violation these students were being notified of: failure to purchase city stickers from the city of Murray as per the new interpretation of the city sticker ordinance enacted last March.
The NOVs warned those violating the current city ordinance they had 10 days to purchase a city sticker or they would be subjected to a $100-$500 fine. The ticket itself did not carry a fine.
Consequently, city hall was flooded Monday by hundreds of students all wishing to purchase city stickers and stave off any impending penalties.
Matt Mattingly, city administrator, said the purpose of the notice distribution by the MPD was not to force students to comply with the ordinance, it was just part of the law enforcement’s responsibility.
“It’s almost a year now since the ordinance changed; students started school back in August and now we’re in the beginning of March,” Mattingly said. “We felt like there had been enough time for students to understand their requirements.”
Mattingly said he thinks the education aspect of the ordinance has been a success so far due to close cooperation between the city and Murray State. The University allowed the city to supply personnel and provided a space to sell the city stickers on campus at the beginning of the school year.
“I myself was a student at one time and I know this is new to them and I know it’s going to take time for them to understand the process and what the requirements are,” he said. “Hopefully students will adhere in the next 10 days and buy the $50 city sticker that is required of them; otherwise if they decide to forego that, the penalty is very steep.”
Mattingly said he does not believe the police will be allocated again to specifically patrol the campus for city stickers for the remainder of this fiscal year. He has not, however, personally spoken with the police chief.
According to Alan Lanier, director of finance for the city of Murray, 17,969 stickers have been sold from April 1 through Dec. 31 and of those, 2,125 were sold to individuals claiming to be students. As of Dec. 31, no fines had been issued in Murray as a result of not complying with the city sticker ordinance.
The police action Sunday night and Monday morning, whereby officers systematically checked student and faculty vehicles on campus, marked the first premeditated mobilization effort made by the MPD to enforce the new ordinance on the part of the city.
While Lanier said the city has no way of knowing if an NOV is given to a student or non-student, he did say 211 NOVs were written last weekend alone.
President Randy Dunn said the police action last weekend took him and many of the administrators by surprise as he was under the impression the city was not completely certain of its authority to enforce its municipal ordinances on campus.
He said as Murray State’s legal staff and the Murray State Police have investigated the legality of enforcing city ordinances on campus, they have found the city is within its rights to do so as long as they are addressing individual behavior.
“Our Murray State general counsel’s office found a 1992 opinion of the Attorney General which stated a city ordinance could be enforced on state property when the purpose is not to regulate the use of the state property but to regulate the conduct of individuals,” Dunn said. “By statute, the city police could exercise its powers anywhere in the county in which the city is located.”
The enactment of a new city sticker policy on March 22, 2012, overturned an exemption for student’s which had lasted since 1961 when the ordinance was first drafted. The majority of city council members found the city could not treat one group of citizens, Murray State students, differently from any other group and argued they could not continue to legally justify treating students on campus as a separate class of citizens.
Mark Welch, director of community relations, said the new interpretation of the city sticker ordinance is also part of a broader issue about how the city pays for itself in lieu of having no payroll tax.
He said the sales of city stickers is a major revenue stream for the city. Sales from the past year alone total $817,931. Money from the purchase of city stickers primarily pays for the upkeep and construction of city roads as well as other various features relating to the roads, such as police enforcement of them and general safety.
“Most municipalities have a payroll tax, but we do not,” Welch said. “Having a payroll tax would actually raise more money than the city stickers, but I think the political climate right now in Murray would make passing a payroll tax difficult.”
Most cities impose a payroll tax of 1-1.5 percent on residents similar to federal and state income tax. If a resident makes $35,000 a year, $350-$425 would be taxed annually by the city depending on what percent of a resident’s income is taxed, a monumentally greater price than what Murray residents pay for a city sticker.
Story by Ben Manhanke, Staff writer.