No More Free Parking

“All, and I mean all, free spaces are going to go away.”

City of Warren Mayor Maurice Cashman’s comment kicked off a public meeting on a new proposed parking plan for the city. The session was held on Wednesday night in the Slater Room of the Warren Public Library.

One of Cashman’s first actions as mayor was to form a parking committee to develop the plan.

The committee’s work was rolled out to the public on Wednesday for input.

And the crux of that plan is shifting the burden of covering the costs to maintain parking from the taxpayer to the parking user.

“There is not a perfect solution in any town,” said Cashman. “(We are) trying to be fair. Those who use parking will pay. (We) will stop charging the general taxpayer who doesn’t use any of the parking because we are in a deficit in the parking fund.”

City Intern Gregory Wilson laid out the proposal.

“The challenge, often too many employees are parking on the street,” Wilson said. “Equally important is the fact that free parking is not actually free. Parking costs everybody something.”

Last year, the parking fund expended $171,000 more than it generated. The deficit is then covered by general fund tax money.

Wilson said the $171,000 in general fund money, if it could remain in the general fund, would provide, for example, 314 Christmas decorations, 244 park benches or seven blocks of street paving.

The answer? Charging the user.

“There is a relationship between parking fees and parking turnover,” Wilson said. Such turnover would free up parking downtown more consistently and “drives employees to park in less-expensive permit areas,” he added.

To charge the user, the committee has proposed utilizing approximately 40 kiosks placed strategically throughout the downtown area. “The rate that would be proposed is $1 per hour.” Tracking would be accomplished through license-plate monitoring.

One dollar per hour is the same rate as currently in place at the Midtown Lot.

Wilson laid out a two-phase proposal.

Phase one, roughly Pennsylvania Avenue from General Joseph Warren Park to the intersection with Market Street, Liberty up to Third Avenue and Market to Fourth Avenue, would convert 276 on-street spaces to pay per hour, and also include 104 street permit spots that would be located away from downtown businesses that are reliant on parking turnover.

Phase 2, which would encompass Fourth Avenue, as well as adjacent side streets, would convert an additional 135 on-street spots to pay spots as well as create an additional 61 street permits.

Residents would also be able to petition council for residential permitting should the need arise.

Total installation cost for both phases is estimated at approximately $460,000 with revenue expectations, based on 65 percent usage at $8 per day, 250 days a year, at $434,160 in the first year, rising to $660,600 annually once completely implemented.

The pay spots would be in place Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Weekends and evenings would be free, according to the recommendation of the commission comprised of city staff and councilmen Dr. Howard Ferguson, Gregory Fraser and John Lewis.

Eliminating free parking could push employees of downtown businesses to the Clark Street parking garage.

Ferguson said the attempt would accommodate “two core values. Property tax shouldn’t subsidize parking” and that the situation generally should “create the greatest benefit for the greatest number…. The transfer over will be challenging. (We) hope that the plan is somewhat fool proof. There are core values we are trying to accomplish here.”

Council will hold a work session next Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the municipal building. The intention is to have a proposal to bring to council at the April meeting.