A matter of change: Concord parking committee finalizes recommendations

  • No Parking hoods line Park Street across from the State House. The Concord Parking Committee has recommended a series of changes to the city council that would impact parking policy in the capital city. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

  • Lynn Roberts from Pittsfield pays for her parking at the kiosk while shopping at Joe King’€s in downtown Concord. Roberts wonders what the increase is going to look like. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Thursday, October 26, 2017

Visitors to Concord may have to fish out an extra quarter to park in the city’s downtown in the future.

However, if the city council approves a series of recommendations from the parking committee to update the city’s parking plan, drivers can pay that extra quarter to a smart meter using their cellphones.

Those are just some of the sweeping changes the parking committee recommended during its Monday meeting. If approved, the changes would be implemented over the course of several years, starting next year.

Some of the most significant recommendations include changing downtown parking rates from 75 cents to $1 an hour, allowing a maximum time span of three hours of parking instead of two, and adding new metered areas on several downtown streets.

The increased parking fee is 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.

The committee also recommended enforcement hours change from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. to 9 a.m.–7 p.m., Monday through Saturday. That’s in line with weekday enforcement hours in Nashua and Dover, and not too far from Manchester, which enforces parking from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 10 a.m.–6 p.m. in limited areas on Saturday. Portsmouth enforcement hours are from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Saturday, according to the committee’s draft report.

Additional meter coverage would be installed on high-demand areas with 50 meters to be added in Fiscal Year 2019, with another 258 added in Fiscal Year 2020.

Committee member and Ward 4 Councilor Byron Champlin said he anticipates some of the recommendations to be unpopular.

“I know some people will be upset and concerned that we’re taking away something free,” he said.

But Champlin said the city’s parking should be viewed as an “economic development asset,” one that is critical to keeping the downtown business scene vibrant and viable. That means ensuring there is healthy turnover in the downtown parking area, something he said merchants have complained about.

And then there’s the issue of the parking fund: Without any changes, the parking fund would go bankrupt – specifically, it would be $153,000 in the red – by the end of Fiscal Year 2018 and need to borrow money from the general fund, according to the parking committee’s draft report to the council.

On the flip side, if the committee’s recommendations are adopted, the parking fund would grow to $1.3 million by Fiscal Year 2028, according to the report.

Mark Coen, at-large city councilor and chairman of the parking committee, was confident the recommendations could end the three years of discussion around how to restore the parking fund. “I feel comfortable in saying parking will become more efficient and the fund will be in the black within the next few years,” he said.

Other monetary recommendations include increasing parking tickets for expired meters from $10 to $15.

Linda Kenison, Ward 6 councilor and parking committee member, said the increased penalty was recommended to up the stakes for those who would rather pay a fine than feed the meter, noting a $10 ticket would be cheaper than paying for parking all day.

Other fees would also see an increase: Parking in a reserved space would go from $20 to $25; parking in a “No Parking” area would go from $15 to $20; an encumbered meter ticket would go from $10 to $15; parking outside the lines would go from $5 to $10; and parking where a residential permit is required would go from $10 to $15.

Parking in the city’s garages would remain 50 cents an hour to incentivize their use, Champlin said. 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.

Other proposed changes include investing in technology to make paying for parking easier and a website that would include parking hours, rates and locations. There would also be an option to pay parking tickets online; currently, tickets must be paid in person or mailed to the city’s police department.

Dedicated neighborhood parking enforcement six days per week is also on the table. According to the report, neighborhood parking complaints have steadily grown since the repeal of the overnight parking ban in 2008.

The committee is also recommending changes in how parking money is used. Kenison said any non-meter ticket revenue, such as fines for parking over the line or in an illegal spot, would no longer be transferred to the general fund, keeping about $100,000 annually in the parking fund. The cost of downtown snow removal, about $60,000 annually, would be shifted to the general fund.

Additionally, maintenance of the city’s parking garages would be transferred to the parking department, with a new maintenance position created. Currently, the city’s General Services Department is responsible for the garage’s upkeep.

There was discussion about whether to recommend adopting RSA 231:130-a, which would allow the city to withhold motor vehicle registrations due to unpaid parking tickets. However, the committee ultimately decided to not recommend that measure to the council.

If enacted, these changes will result in net new costs to the general fund $316,000 in Fiscal Year 2019, resulting in 0.8 percent increase to the city tax rate, according to the report, or about $20 a year in new taxes on a $250,000 home.

Parking committee meetings are public meetings. The report was provided to the Monitor on Thursday.

A finalized report will be presented to the council on Nov. 13. A public hearing on the recommendations will be held Dec. 11.

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