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Parking frustrations mount in Leechburg

| Sunday, March 23, 2008

Steve Fabry never imagined it would cost him $103 to drop off his grandchild at kindergarten.

In fact, he had no clue it had cost him that much until he received a parking fine in the mail.

"It seems to me that normal fines are $15 but not around the school," Fabry said. "They must be filing those citations under a state code that automatically jacks the fine straight up."

Leechburg police have been collecting license plate numbers of people parking illegally on the streets surrounding David Leech Elementary School in an effort to safeguard the children.

However, during kindergarten drop off and pick up, there are not enough legal parking spaces, and the district does not bus kindergarten students or have a drop off system.

Fabry, who has been fighting the parking issue since the beginning of February, said he got a fine through Leechburg District Judge Michael Gerheim for parking in a restricted yellow zone.

While attending a borough council meeting in February, Fabry told council members that he knows of a woman who received a fine totalling half of her week's pay, and a 65-year-old woman who fell while walking several blocks trying to get her grandchild to school on time.

"There has to be a compromise," he said. "There are just not enough parking spaces."

Mayor Chuck Pascal said council members met with the school board and settled on the idea of the district relocating the gate at the elementary school.

"It was my understanding that the board authorized the gate being relocated to Second Street," Pascal said. "It is believed that will alleviate some of the problems of double parking."

Pascal said council plans to meet with the school board and public to try to brainstorm a long-term solution.

No meeting has been scheduled.

District superintendent Jim Budzilek said the school board and administration did meet with council but no solutions were reached.

Budzilek said PennDOT officials visited the school in mid-February to help provide a solution to the parking situation. No feedback has been reported to the district.

Mark Hillwig, community relations coordinator for PennDOT's Armstrong district, said assessing a parking situation in the borough is generally not something that PennDOT does.

"The parents are just trying to drop off their children as close to school as possible for security reasons," Budzilek said. "Parking problems are a problem when any school is located in a town."

Pascal said he feels that borough police are writing down license plate numbers and then sending tickets out as a way to evenly enforce the issue.

"If an officer is seen writing tickets, one person will get a ticket and the rest of the people illegally parked will move their cars," he said. "That person will criticize the borough for not giving tickets to others before they could drive away, so the parking situation has to be evenly enforced."

Pascal said the fine is $25, of which the borough gets $12.50. The remaining $78 is from state fees.

West Leechburg resident Lisa Rua said she tried to fight the parking issue when her son was in kindergarten. Robbie is now in the fourth grade.

Rua said at the time a former school board member recommended changing the direction of one-way Center Avenue so parents would be able to drop their children off. The board voted down that idea, Rua said.

"We never got anything resolved," she said.

Budzilek said it is an unfortunate situation that parents are receiving tickets.

"As long as I have been here, the parking problem comes up each year," he said. "And when new parents and new students arrive for kindergarten, it comes up again, year after year."

"It is just a ridiculous thing," Fabry said. "The fines are just not justified."

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