M/clear
36°
M/clear
Hi 59° | Lo 34°

Concord looks to save parking fund by hiring consultant

Concord’s parking fund is on track to run out of money in the next two years.

That’s the estimate laid out in a report to the mayor and city council proposing the creation of a parking strategic plan. Officials would like to hire a private consultant to study the city’s parking and propose changes.

A consultant would “see if there’s a better way to manage that supply to meet the (parking) need, not only that exists today, but also going forward into the future,” said Matt Walsh, the city’s director of redevelopment, downtown services and special projects.

The parking fund is designed to sustain itself without the help of taxpayer money; meter fees and leased spaces cover the cost of operating the parking department. Walsh said the fund’s debt payments for projects like caring for the existing parking garages and paying for the Capital Commons garage have increased. The fund’s expenses have been greater than its revenue for several years, and expenses will only increase, with $3 million in repairs to the Durgin Block garage scheduled for 2015.

“Essentially what’s happened is revenues have not kept up with expenses in the parking fund for several years,” Walsh said. “For a year or two you can absorb that, but what’s happened is this has gone on for several years.”

Walsh’s report is on the consent agenda for tonight’s city council meeting, meaning the council will not likely discuss the issue but will authorize Walsh to seek applications from consultants. Any proposed contract with a consultant would return to the council for a public hearing and vote.

Funding for the study would come from the city’s economic development reserve fund, Walsh wrote in his report.

Councilor Mark Coen, chairman of the city’s parking committee, said he supports the proposal to hire a consultant.

“I’m glad that I see the city council and the city administration being very proactive and trying to get a handle on the issue of the parking and the financials of it,” Coen said.

Because a consultant’s study could “make parking work better for everybody,” Councilor Keith Nyhan said, he also supports it. Nyhan chaired a study committee in 2009 that suggested changes to the city’s parking.

“I would not want this as a general fund expense,” he said of the parking study. “But whereas it’s coming from the economic development reserve, I think those dollars are already there.”

City Manager Tom Aspell said it’s time for the city to take a “business approach” to its parking division, because it is a key part of economic development downtown.

“Instead of parking as an enforcement item . . . there’s more of a business element to parking,” Aspell said.

Aspell began that new approach earlier this year, when Walsh’s job position changed to include oversight of the parking division. Parking Supervisor Dave Florence now only oversees day-to-day parking operations.

The last strategic parking plan is nearly two decades old. Concord and its parking needs have changed since that plan was published in 1994, Walsh said.

Concord has made changes to its parking since the last strategic plan; the Capital Commons garage opened in 2007, and the Ad-Hoc Parking Study Committee made recommendations to the city council in 2009. The council adopted some of those recommendations, such as raising the fine for parking tickets and installing parking kiosks. They raised the hourly parking rate on Main Street from 50 cents to 75 cents, but rejected the committee’s proposals of $1 hourly rates and extended hours of enforcement.

“Obviously that decision had an impact on where the parking fund is today,” Walsh said last week.

The parking fund has lost $750,000 since 2008, Walsh wrote in his report to the city council. It is projected to need about $1 million in support from the city’s general fund by fiscal year 2018 if left unchanged.

Coen said the “cash drain” of the fund and needed renovations to the Durgin Block garage are concerning. But the timing is also right to reconsider parking in Concord, he said.

“It really dovetailed very nicely, timing-wise, because of the Main Street reconfiguration and to really look at the impact that parking has, not only revenue generating, but also with how it enhances the downtown.”

Walsh said he hopes to bring a contract with the consultant to the city council for a vote in May. If approved, work would begin that month and recommendations would be delivered to the city council by June 2015. (The city’s redesign of Main Street is scheduled to be complete at roughly the same time.)

Walsh said there are consulting companies that specialize in parking. A parking study would include not only public parking, but all available parking downtown. The study area would span roughly from the University of New Hampshire School of Law to Interstate 93, and Ferry Street to Perley Street, Walsh wrote in his report.

The study would include input, an inventory of parking supply and land use and a study of the use of existing parking spaces. Walsh said the consultants would suggest a plan to care for the existing garages and parking equipment and study parking rates. That work could lead to changes in parking rates, hours of enforcement or areas where the city charges for parking.

Mayor Jim Bouley said he feels the city could benefit from a consultant’s expertise.

“I personally think that it’s a good idea,” Bouley said. “I think it’s necessary. I think that for the most part the city administration and the city council have done the best with what they have with parking, but I have recently seen what Manchester has done when they hired a parking consultant . . . we could draw upon somebody who has a greater breadth of knowledge.”

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

Yup! Just increase the fee$ and then no one will shop downtown.

the paint has not even dried on those new crappy parking kiosks that they promised would bring in more of the citizens hard earned $$$$ - way to go democrats !

Over the years I've decided that when it comes to politics in Concord, what they don't say is just as important to follow as what they do. Read between the lines and carefully. What I am getting out of this, among other things, is that there is a certain quota of parking tickets that need to be written every year to cover a predetermined portion or percentage of the upkeep in the downtown parking garages. Maybe other places too. It's disturbing when a municipality plans a budget, or even a portion of one, around how much money they intend to collect in parking fines. Not too many years ago, the parking division was supervised by a Police Officer and there were 2 or 3 parking control employees; today there are twice as many along with a director of parking, and 2 vehicles instead of 1. And straight faced they are wondering what the deal is with diminishing funds for garage upkeep. Praise The Lord, here come the beloved consultant fees. I wish I had a penny for every dollar Concord has spent on consultants over the last 25 or 30 years.

The parking fund has been losing money since 2008, about the same time the city opened the parking garage behind O's, if I recall the city was promoting free parking in the new garage because no one was using it. Also more importantly 25- 30 spaces will be lost on Main Street under the redesign, obviously the timing of report by the new parking consultant is connected this lost of revenue.

I may not be a parking professional but several things are evident to even the casual observer. 1) There is only so much traffic downtown to generate parking fees. 2) We have two parking garages that required major investment to build, manage and maintain. This said, I don't think it is necessary to spend thousands for consultants to tell us the same thing. I haven't done the research into parking related salaries but it seems that this type of issue should fall under someone's job description.

Don't know about anyone else, but raising parking fees just makes me LESS likely to park downtown - and thus not patronize downtown businesses.

100% mess created by a democrat controlled city.

The parking fund is not growing as much to meet expenses. So now the city leaders decide it will spend thousands of dollars to hire a consultant tell the politicians what everyone else already knows. You have to increase the parking fees! Adding a few more meters where there are none now is also a possibility. Another thing they can do is increasing the hourly parking rate. These ideas are no brainers yet the politicians want to spend money because it is there! Why can't we get people to run for office who have some common sense and can think on their feet? IF they always have to hire consultants to find out how to fix thing, maybe we should just recruit consultants to run the city.

I would say they do need to hire a parking consultant, because the people running the show now, are incompetent.

You got that right Waltham Watch. Hiring consultants is the norm it seems for folks who have no clue. Yet, when programs have to be cut, we hear outrage. There are a lot of parking spaces downtown empty. I know I use downtown and pretty much can have my choices of spots. The issue is simple. Folks shop and do business where they can afford to. The income levels of the area dictate where folks do business.

The parking fund is not growing as much to meet expenses. So now the city leaders decide it will spend thousands of dollars to hire a consultant tell the politicians what everyone else already knows. You have to increase the parking fees! Adding a few more meters where there are none now is also a possibility. Another thing they can do is increasing the hourly parking rate. These ideas are no brainers yet the politicians want to spend money because it is there! Why can't we get people to run for office who have some common sense and can think on their feet? IF they always have to hire consultants to find out how to fix thing, maybe we should just recruit consultants to run the city.

The best way to have more people shop downtown is to increase the parking fees. What? People don't use the parking garages because they're afraid to. Another reason is, if someone makes a few purchases from the stores, you only have to carry them 1/2 mile to your car. If you want people to shop downtown, you need to give them what they want. Remember the old days with sidewalk sales and 60s groups playing on stage at night? Downtown was always packed, and there wasn't any parking on Main Street.

Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.