Concord city council approves parking rate hikes, enforcement hours

  • Concord City Hall GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Monday, December 11, 2017

The city of Concord has approved major changes to its parking fee system and increased rates for certain meters for the first time in seven years.

The Concord city council voted Monday night to change a few key parking ordinances, paving the way for expanded metered areas, increased hours of enforcement and rates, and adjustments to a neighborhood parking system.

The changes, some of which have seen pushback from cash-strapped residents and city officials alike, are the first are the first of the city Parking Committee’s extensive recommendations to be adopted. They aim to revive the city’s ailing parking fund, which officials say will go bankrupt in 2019.

The approved changes will take effect July 1, 2018.

What’s different

Perhaps the most striking change will be the increasing of downtown parking rates from 75 cents to $1 an hour and allowing a maximum time span of three hours of parking instead of two.

The increased parking fee is supposed to encourage turnover downtown, and it’s a long way from where the committee started: In 2016, the city was considering spiking rates to $1.75, a 130 percent increase over the current rate. But some residents were outraged at the cost and feared the increase would drive visitors away from the just-finished downtown area.

The council also approved extending enforcement hours from the current 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays to 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Parking in the city’s garages would remain 50 cents an hour to incentivize their use. Rates for the city’s open-air lots will also be reduced from 75 cents to 50 cents per hour. Garages would remain free on Saturdays, but weekday enforcement hours would be in line with downtown spaces.

Overstaying your welcome in a space or violating a rule will be more expensive, too: The council approved increased fines for expired-meter tickets from $10 to $15, also upping parking against traffic, parking in a resident space and parking in a reserved space from $20 to $25.

The city has about $672,769 worth of unpaid ticket dating back to 2001; about one-third of those tickets are from Concord and Penacook residents.

Paying with change will also give you less parking time. A nickel will net only three minutes instead of four, a dime six minutes instead of eight, and a quarter 15 instead of 20 minutes.

Councilors also approved an update to the residential parking permit system for the streets located around the University of New Hampshire Law School.

The city already has about 40 permits for cars to park on Essex, Blanchard, Perry and Rowell streets, but some of those permits date back 40 years, when the permits cost $5 and required no annual renewal, according to Deputy City Manager Matt Walsh.

The vote means those existing permits will have to be renewed every year, and it gives the city manager the authority to raise the cost of the permits from $5 in fiscal year 2018 to $50 in fiscal years 2019-22. The change is expected to generate $2,500 a year.

Though councilors were quick to praise the time and effort Parking Committee members put into the report – the committee has been studying parking changes for about three years – there was still some resistance to certain changes.

Mayor Jim Bouley opposed the increased expired-meter fee, noting that the change could negatively impact downtown service workers.

Under current city ordinances, the cost for unpaid tickets doubles if unpaid after 10 business days and quadruples after 20 business days.

“We do have a downtown workforce,” he said. “And those numbers are significant. They add up quickly. ... I know the idea is for there to be a deterrent to get people to pay; I just don’t think it always works that way.”

And Ward 2 Councilor Allan Herschlag opposed the rate fee increases, saying more should be done to make the parking fund self-sufficient. He made a motion to increase the parking garage rates and hours of enforcement, which failed.

Other recommendations, such as whether to hire more parking enforcement officers or upgrade the city’s kiosks, will be part of the city’s upcoming budget discussions, according to Walsh.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)