Parking meter hike among proposed changes finalized by Concord committee

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

  • Among the changes proposed for Concord's parking system is the addition of 297 meters over the next two years. A map shows which streets would be affected. City of Concord—

Monitor staff
Thursday, April 27, 2017

After 10 months of work, Concord’s parking committee is ready to bring its recommendations for new parking meters, increased fees and longer hours of enforcement to a public hearing next month.

The changes are designed to rehabilitate an unsound parking fund and incentivize long-term visitors to use garages, assigning higher prices for prime Main Street spaces to encourage frequent turnover.

Parking committee members have scaled back the suddenness of some of the changes as compared with the city’s initial presentation last summer. For instance, the Main Street rate wouldn’t spike from 75 cents an hour to $1.75; it would go to $1 in July and $1.25 in 2021.

After the May 23 public hearing, the committee will bring its proposal to the city council for consideration. It would be the first increase to meter rates in seven years, said Matt Walsh, the city’s director of redevelopment, downtown services and special projects.

“The critical thing was how to make this department solvent,” said Councilor Mark Coen, the committee’s chairman. “Here’s a plan to make it solvent and meet the goals of operating and reserve funds and everything else.”

Without any changes, the parking fund would go bankrupt as soon as next year and need to borrow money from the general fund – and, indirectly, the pockets of taxpayers. Under this plan, it’ll stay in the black and begin to stow away money for things like repairs to structurally deficient garages and pay-by-smartphone technology.

“If we were to roll all that into your taxes, your taxes would go up significantly,” Councilor Brent Todd said, “so you need to have some kind of a balance.”

While on-street hourly meter rates would increase by 25 cents in the next year, the garages and surface lots would stay flat at 50 cents until a scheduled increase of a quarter in 2021, creating greater separation between the two.

Hours of enforcement – currently 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays only – would extend to 6 p.m., and Saturdays would be added from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Fifty new meters would be added starting in October in a geographic expansion along both sides of South Main Street from Wentworth Street to the intersection with Storrs and Perley streets. They would also be installed along the north side of Concord Street, between South Main Street and South State Street, and on Dixon Avenue.

The following year would bring another 247 new meters, mostly along North and South State street and adjacent streets, including South Street and the area around the federal courthouse.

Seven types of parking tickets would increase in July, including for expired meters, from $10 to $15; for no-parking zones, from $15 to $20; and against traffic from $20 to $25. Late payment penalties wouldn’t change.

The city councilors who make up the committee said they see an opportunity to boost economic development by guiding parkers’ behavior. Downtown merchants have complained that Saturday visitors – when parking is free – stay put in first-rate Main Street spaces all day to the detriment of shoppers who want to pop in and out.

“You can’t have a situation where there are people who have no impetus and no real reason to move their parking space,” Todd said. “They’re going to just plop themselves down in a spot for six hours – and there they are – because it’s free.”

“Parking regulation is an economic development tool,” Councilor Byron Champlin added. “The decisions that we made are predicated not just on gouging people for money, but on the idea of making sure there’s turnover on Main Street.”

The recommendation approved Thursday came after a series of parking commitee meetings beginning in June. Committee members said they’ll look for input from the public May 23, and then meet again one last time a week later, before bringing a proposal to the city council.

“This group wasn’t just going to say, ‘Okay, sounds good,’ and put a rubber stamp on the first thing that came out,” Todd said. “A lot of folks put a lot of work into this, and that includes the public that attended the sessions.”

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