Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Current Parking Rates Could Double, Run 12 Hours Per Day

By Christina Georgiou

Easton City Council members considered further raising parking rates from the current 50 cents an hour to $1 and enforcing metered parking on most days of the week for 12 hours a day at their budget discussion Tuesday evening.

"I don't see any reason we shouldn't go 'til 9," said councilman Roger Ruggles. "It's just easier to remember, 9 to 9...It's just less confusing."\

"I'm on the same page as that--uniformity," said fellow councilman Ken Brown.

With a minimum charge for those using credit cards at the new smart meters the city is testing being $1, the council also seems inclined to making the rate for metered street parking $1 per hour too.

"I think we need to go to $1 too," said Mike Fleck, who also added he feels the city should add a way for those who are ticketed to pay parking fines online.

City officials also said they are considering running metered parking on Sundays, from noon to 9 p.m. as well.

"Here's the question: Do you want Main Street and Ambassadors? This is a great use for that money," said Mayor Sal Panto.

"In 2005, city council raised the rates to a dollar, but then there was a push back," he added.

Only Councilman Jeff Warren voiced uncertainty about doubling the rates.

"I don't believe 75 cents is unreasonable. Is $1 unreasonable? Not necessarily, but that's still a bit of a shock," he said. "A good way to polit the baby is we do the dollar when the new technology comes in."

Some of the rate hike and projected increased revenue from extended meter enforcement times will go to pay for 200 new solar-powered smart meters the city wants to replace some of their 936 parking meters with, city officials have said. While they would be paid for over several years, at about $500 apiece, plus another $30,000 to $40,000 for multi-space meters at city parking lots, the new equipment still needs to be paid for, something a rate hike would do.

Lt. Matthew Lohenitz, who heads the traffic division for the Easton Police Department, said the new meters are easily programmable and that configuring them to be able to take more denominations of change would allow visitors that are just running in and out of shops to be able to just drop small change in their meter rather than having to spend a whole dollar.

"During the day, they're short stays," said Lohenitz of people's parking times. "you're evening stays are the longest, but we're not enforcing then."

"I really don't think people will change their shopping habits over a quarter," said city finance director Chris Heagele.

"The extra quarter could generate an extra $150,000 that could go to Ambassadors and Main Street," Fleck said.

The days of free parking on Sundays also seems likely to end too.

"I talked with the Downtown pastors, and obviously they're concerned," Panto said. "(But) we're paying $500,000 to keep Crayola here, and we need to recoup that."

Panto said parking enforcement times should be noon to 9 p.m. on Sundays because that would reflect when Crayola's opening time. He added that those attending church could be given a placard to put on their cars reflecting that, so they wouldn't be ticketed.

The mayor noted that the change would likely mean the city would issue--and see revenue--from more resident parking permits too.

"As we encourage more people to live Downtown, we want more people to get a parking permit," he said. "We need to do a better job on getting the word out (about them)," Panto said.

Resident parking permits for Downtown residents are $100 per year, and $60 for seniors.

The matter is to be discussed again at Wednesday evening's city council meeting, and the mayor said he encourages the public to join the discussion.

"This needs to get out for us by tomorrow, so people can tell us why we shouldn't do this," he said. "Or why we should."

Panto added that while parking rates may go up, not all areas of the city will immediately be getting the new smart meters.

"They don't become cost effective in all areas. You don't want to put them on Bushkill Street," he said. "In the next few years though, maybe the cost of the wifi will get cheaper, and maybe we'll do all of them."

City council meets again this evening at 6 p.m. on the sixth floor of City Hall, 1 South Third St., where it is expected the matter will be discussed again. The public is encouraged to attend.

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