Parking: The Final Plan

jcotton@timesobserver.com

A proposed parking ordinance is taking shape as Warren City Council on Monday gave city administration a blueprint to follow.

But it was most certainly not without opposition.

“The committee has finished its work,” said Councilman Dr. Howard Ferguson who, along with councilmen Gregory Fraser and John Lewis, served on a parking committee convened early this year.

He explained that the parking issue was originally raised because the city’s parking fund is “operating at a deficit of over $173,000. The only place to make up the deficit is taxes. (It is) our belief… that property tax is not intended to subsidize parking. There has to be some way to (find) fairness for everyone. That’s a challenging task.

“The committee does have a final product tonight,” he said. “The committee won’t function after this evening. The remainder of the work is on the part of the entire city council. We are sympathetic to a variety of constituents (and) try to understand their point of view. We’re hopeful that we can bring some closure.”

City Intern Gregory Wilson said that parking meters were originally installed in 1960 but stopped in 2002 when the city had approximately $600,000 in the parking fund.

That fund now contains $28,000.

“So far each city tax payer has subsidized the parking fund, $68 per taxpayer… if they use it or not,” Wilson said.

The proposal brought to council, vetted at a public meeting on June 3, calls for the installation of 221 parking meters in the downtown area, 31 on street permit spaces as well as the retention of 194 free two-hour parking spaces “all of which would be within two blocks of downtown enterprises,” said Wilson. The price to park at the Clark Street garage would be reduced and kiosks would be installed at the Midtown Lot, replacing the current machines, which are becoming unreliable and trouble-prone.

Wilson laid out a timeline to council that would include council enacting the proposal as ordinance, with a corresponding fee resolution, at the July and August meetings.

The equipment would be installed between July and September and also include an education piece for the public. The ordinance and fee would be effective beginning Sept. 1 with the entire proposal fully operational by Oct. 1.

Pitched earlier this month at $2 per hour, the fee for parking in the metered spaces has been changed to $1 per hour. The Midtown Lot rate is also $1 per hour but does include the first 30 minutes free. Monthly fees at the parking garage would be reduced to $25 for residents and $30 for non-residents.

“The committee believes… that it does present a solution to each of the major challenges that the city faces,” said Wilson, noting it would eliminate the deficiency that the parking fund is indebted to the general fund and also “create a sustainable program so that the threat of subsidy does not return to the program.”

City Manager Nancy Freenock said that the city would be looking to finance the original capital expense at approximately $232,000 for the meters and kiosks as well as their installation.

Several downtown business owners pushed back against the proposal.

“I think it’s a good plan. I don’t think it’s the right plan,” said Todd Bowersox, who brought a petition to council signed by about 50 people calling on council to reconsider and table action on the plan for another month. He asked that council hold an additional public meeting on the plan.

“What’s the rush?” Dan Ristau asked. “I hope we’re doing the right thing when it comes to our small businesses in downtown. I don’t think it hurts to slow down for a month.”

“Things are moving very fast,” said Julia Tarr. With councilmen Sam Harvey and John Lewis absent, Tarr asked that the item be tabled until all seven members are present at a future meeting. “I talk to my customers every single day about it. It’s every single business owner downtown. We’re here speaking on behalf of them. I think it’s going to backfire.

“We cannot afford to lose one customer,” she added. “We worked too hard. We’re dedicated to this community. I urge you to look at it a little bit… harder.”

“We’re not deciding tonight, there is not an ordinance before us,” said Fraser. “What is expected tonight (is the) sense of council to move forward with this proposal.

“A delay sounds tempting, but I don’t think ultimately it would be productive. (We) realize we’re not going to have a perfect product. It’s a work in progress. I don’t think we should delay further consideration because we might get more insight.”

“We worked very hard on the process,” added Ferguson. “It is difficult to find a process in recent history here… that was more open. We took our time. We slowed down (to) be responsive to what everyone had to say. I think the process was done well.

“I think we have to keep moving the process forward.”

Fraser made a motion to have the administration draft an ordinance based on the presentation made during the meeting. Mayor Maurice Cashman said that would be “giving administration the roadmap to go forward.”

Council deemed that an additional public meeting, outside of the monthly council meeting, was not necessary at this time.