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Concord to begin parking study as fund dwindles

Concord will hire a consultant in an effort to save its parking fund, which is set to run out of money by the end of next year.

Last night, the city council approved $115,000 to pay a private team to study the city’s parking and propose changes. Matt Walsh, the city’s director of redevelopment, downtown services and special projects, called the study “a soup-to-nuts review of the parking system.”

“We need this in order to develop a plan to restore the parking fund to financial solvency so it supports itself,” Walsh said.

The fund is supposed to sustain itself without taxpayer money; meter fees and leased spaces cover operating costs for the parking department. But when City Manager Tom Aspell delivered his budget proposal for fiscal year 2015 to the city council, he told them the fund would lose almost $78,000 that year to hit a balance of almost zero. In fiscal year 2016, Aspell predicted the fund would lose more than $300,000 under its current model.

Mayor Jim Bouley voiced strong support for the parking study, which he said is “long, long overdue.”

“This review is so necessary to look at the neighborhood-by-neighborhood streets,” Bouley said.

Ward 2 Councilor Allan Herschlag was the lone vote against the parking study, because he said he doesn’t think the study should happen while the city unrolls the upcoming Main Street project. The tally came to 13-1; Ward 8 Councilor Gail Matson was absent.

“The timing of this study is what concerns me,” Herschlag said. “The fact that this study will be completed after the Main Street project will be undertaken doesn’t make sense to me.”

But Bouley argued this study is about more than Main Street. The study area includes the downtown core, but it also extends northwest to the neighborhood around White Park, northeast around the Merrimack County Superior Court House, south to Perley Street and west around Christa McAuliffe School.

“This is a much bigger, much more comprehensive study than we’ve done,” Bouley said. “Let’s really not miss the point. This is about our community, not just Main Street. It’s time we do this. It’s time we move ahead.”

The consultant team will review Concord’s three garages, nine surface parking lots and nearly 2,000 regulated on-street parking spots. Among their tasks will be to look at Concord’s parking rates, including leases and fines, as well as the hours the city charges for parking. They’ll also make recommendations toward a capital plan for maintaining the city’s parking garages. That includes the Durgin Block parking garage, which Walsh said is in need of about $3 million in repairs.

“I was amazed that we didn’t have a plan in place for maintenance,” said Ward 6 Councilor Allen Bennett, who has served on the parking committee since 2003.

The study will also have to factor in the relationship between parking spaces and attracting businesses or market-rate apartments to downtown Concord, Walsh said.

“We want to make sure whatever approach we come up with to put the parking fund back on track, that we aren’t doing it in a manner that would stymie our efforts to encourage economic development downtown,” Walsh said.

Selected from a pool of four applicants, the team to be hired by the city is from Nelson Nygaard and Desman Associates.

“They have a tremendous amount of experience in the area of parking,” Walsh said. “They have done work in other similar communities in New England.”

The consultants should bring the results of their study to the council by early 2015, Walsh said, in time to write a budget for the parking department for the next year.

New contracts

Last night, the council also approved two collective bargaining agreements – one with the Concord Police Patrolmen’s Association and one with the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1045.

The three-year contract with CPPA will be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2014, according to a press release from Aspell. It includes a retroactive 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase for calendar year 2014 and a 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase for calendar years 2015 and 2016. The agreement also has a 1 percent market adjustment that will not become effective until July 30, 2016, which is being provided “to allow the city of Concord to become more competitive with its patrolmen’s wages and to attract new recruitments,” the release stated.

The three-year contract with IAFF will begin July 1. It includes a 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase for each contract year and a $400 cash incentive to be paid in November 2016. The last three-year agreement between Concord and the IAFF members did not include any cost-of-living increases.

The new contracts also include a requirement that the unions will begin paying toward the cost of their health insurance premiums. According to the release, the unions also agreed that the cost-sharing model will be based on the least expensive HMO health care plan currently offered, and employees who choose a more expensive plan will be required to pay the difference in premiums.

“We know that the nature of crime in New Hampshire is changing, especially in our community, and I think the compensation is adequate to the services we receive,” said at-large Councilor Steve Shurtleff.

The contracts were both approved by a 13-1 vote; Bennett was the lone dissenting vote.

“Police and fire are important to me; that’s not the issue,” Bennett said after the vote. “The issue is what we can afford.”

More money for tannery site

The council approved an additional $245,000 for cleanup efforts at the Allied Leather Tannery site in Penacook. Concord accepted grant money for more petroleum cleanup earlier this year, but Walsh said these dollars will come from the city. About $170,000 of that money will come from bonds, while the rest will be covered with cash from the tax increment finance district that encompasses the tannery site.

Since 2001, Walsh said the city has invested about $4.7 million in the tannery site, with 63 percent coming from state and federal grants. Once cleanup is completed this summer, Walsh anticipated the city could begin approaching potential developers for that site this fall.

“It’s much easier to go out and look for a developer when you know what you’ve got,” Walsh said.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

The parking committee hires a parking consultant to spread the blame when the end result either doesn't work or blows up in their face. No, not us, we didn't come up with that, the consultant did. Remember, those who can not hold a steady job, become consultants.

Why are we always paying private firms to study things we should know? My guess is the records of what is spent is there, and I would assume somebody on the city payroll has a clue about spending, what things cost, etc. Just also wanted to mention, that taking a walk downtown is starting to get to the point where I am seeing more and more issues with folks down there walking around that are most likely homeless, mentally ill and a host of other folks who are beginning to make downtown look like a place of lost souls. We need to realize that there are a lot of other issues besides parking that are turning our Main Street into a place where folks are avoiding. Not being mean here, but I have lived here 23 years, and I have seen the change. The numbers are getting larger. Very sad. Focus should be on these lost souls not what downtown looks like.

I'd say the reason for paying private firms to study things, is either paying back favors, or they're incompetent. If they held a meeting of all the downtown merchants, they could find most of the answers to their parking problems, for free.

If stuff like this does not cause a complete overturn of the city ruled by these democrat elite then the fiefdom of LIDV's deserve what they get

What is really amazing is Councilor serving on the parking committee since 2003 that does not even know there is not a maintenance plan. 11 years and they do even mention maintenance, sorta sums up the problem.

If you have to hire a parking consultant, why have a parking committee?

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