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Downtown: Parking committee reviews revenue estimates for planned changes

  • Parking meters are seen on South Street in Concord on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016. Monitor file



Monitor staff
Monday, March 20, 2017

It was almost a year ago that the city first proposed sweeping changes to the parking system in an effort to save the dedicated fund from insolvency. Next month, a committee of city councilors will prepare its final recommendations.

Some readers will likely remember their shock at learning that the cost to park on Main Street could jump a full dollar to $1.75 an hour, or that the fine for an expired meter would go from $10 to $25.

The parking committee has been quietly contemplating the changes ever since, in many cases scaling back or drawing out the initial recommendations. And now, the committee is working to put together a proposal it can bring to a public hearing.

Last week, the committee members received real estimates that attach dollar figures to proposed changes. For instance, what does it mean to add one hour of enforcement each day for meters, garages and some surface lots? New revenues of roughly $88,000 in fiscal year 2018, according to the financial analysis proposed by Matt Walsh, the city’s director of redevelopment, downtown services and special projects.

The parking fund is supposed to operate independently, bringing in enough not only to pay enforcement officers’ salaries but to bank money for neglected structural repairs to garages and technology updates – such as smart meters that could be paid by cellphone – that make the system more user-friendly.

Far from squirreling away dollars, the parking fund, which in 2006 had more than $1 million, is nearly bankrupt. Without any adaptation, by midsummer 2018 it’ll need to borrow $130,000 from the general fund.

In other words, if the fund has no money and the city wants to repair a structurally deficient garage, it has to go to the taxpayers.

On the other hand, if drivers pay more to park – including many who come from outside the city – maintenance and upgrades can be paid for in larger part by visitors who use the city’s facilities.

How much more? Walsh crunched the numbers. For the sake of discussion, he mapped out the next 10 years with some of the changes recommended by the city and parking committee.

One data point in Walsh’s analysis is hourly parking rates. Under the analysis, meters would go to $1 an hour starting this summer, while underutilized surface lots and garages would remain at a cheaper 50 cents an hour to incentivize use. These rates would increase by a quarter every two years, and some 300 parking meters would be added before 2020.

Other changes are also proposed for citations, parking permits and leased spaces.

Under the status quo, the parking fund is set to go more than $350,000 into the negative by the end of the 2018 fiscal year. But with these changes, it would have a positive balance of more than $250,000. That would put the fund directly in line with the city’s recommended balance of 10 percent of annual expenses.

The year-end balance would remain about the same the following year, as the city takes on additional expenses to carry out the plan, but eventually grows rapidly. By fiscal year 2022, it would have $1.6 million – more than it has ever had – and by fiscal year 2027, it would have $7.7 million.

Reviewing these numbers last week, parking committee members and Walsh agreed that meant the fee schedule – with increasing rates every two or three years, as assumed for the demonstration – was “too aggressive.”

But Walsh also broke out the changes individually, so the committee members could compile an “a la carte” plan. Here are some of the noteworthy points in increased revenue, as estimated for the next fiscal year:

Increasing the hours of enforcement until 6 p.m. on weekdays (instead of 5 p.m.) on existing meters, garages and lots: $88,000.

Adding hours of enforcement from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays: $140,000.

Adding 50 meters with increased hours of enforcement: $52,000.

Adding another 247 meters in fiscal year 2019 with increased hours of enforcement: $232,000.

Those figures would increase each year, especially when the hourly parking rate is increased. For instance, if meters go up a quarter an hour every two years, the one extra hour of weekday enforcement means $126,000 in fiscal year 2020, $160,000 in 2022 and eventually $227,000 in 2026.

But Walsh noted of that assumption: “It frankly generates too much revenue. Based on that, I need to go back and spread those increases out.”

“There’s no reason to raise rates every two years,” he added, “if we don’t need the revenue. My goal is to make the system financially solvent, but also make it more user-friendly to get more utility out of the system for economic development purposes.”

Councilor Brent Todd requested to see alternatives that keep fees flat or significantly increase time between rate increases. He emphasized that the councilors would never sign onto a rigid 10-year plan.

“That’s not the way it works. We do the budget every year,” he said. “Every year we would be looking like we do with all the other funds out there. You’d be looking at the parking fund and saying, ‘How did it do?’ ... and then make an adjustment accordingly.”

The councilors said they hope to settle on a recommendation at their next meeting, April 27, and then prepare for a public hearing in May.

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at
@NickBReid.)