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Locals, government should be on same page on parking



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March 11, 2014 | 04:32 PM
Part 3 of a series

So why should the citizens of Lake Geneva support a parking structure?

The need for more parking has been discussed for years.

In my last two columns, I’ve argued that a parking structure is needed to help solve the parking problem.

And because the most likely source of funding — TIF — sunsets in 2017, that decision should be made soon.

Last week, the city parking commission recommended that the parking structure be built behind the old theater.

That recommendation will go to the city council. I doubt there will be a unanimous vote, but I suspect a majority of the council will let the citizens decide by putting it to a referendum.

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A referendum is required for any expenditure of more than $1.1 million and the parking structure is expected to cost close to $8 million

While a recent study predicted voters would support a parking structure, I have my doubts.

This is a conservative community and many citizens aren’t big fans of the visitors who invade Lake Geneva every summer.

Other people are against TIF on principle. I understand their concern. It’s too easy for TIF to become an easy piggy bank for pet projects. And while it may not be a tax in the traditional sense, it does collect money from taxpayers.

That said, citizens need to understand it’s now or probably never. The money is available and if anything fulfills TIF’s goal of improving downtown, a parking structure does.

And I doubt a greater purpose would be found if the money were redistributed to the taxing bodies — which would be the case if TIF closes.

More directly, citizens would find their own parking problems lessened.

There’d be less encroachment in residential areas by tourists.

There’d be more of an incentive to come downtown to shop.

Locals will also gain because a healthy downtown makes for a healthy economy.

Right now many locals feel disenfranchised. They’re the ones who vote. They’re the ones who pay taxes. Yet it seems to them that many of the decisions made by the city are only done to encourage the business community. To many citizens it seems like a one-way street.

To help change that image, the city should go out of its way to provide support for parking rules that directly benefit the citizens of Lake Geneva.

Here are a few suggestions:

1) Keep the residential sticker program that allows for two-hour free parking, maybe even extend it as few people use up the full two hours anyway. I understand that the city has about 5,700 residential stickers. It seems obvious that some people have found a way to get more stickers than they need or have moved since acquiring one: the city should restart the program and be even more vigilant about proof of residency.

2) Continue the program of free parking during the winter months, at least for citizens.

3) Establish rates in the parking structure that encourage downtown workers to park there instead of on the street. Not only will that keep spaces open for visitors, but it will help fill the parking structure during the winter.

The recent parking study and some council members have suggested rescinding or changing some of those rules.

I think that would be the wrong approach.

The city is now making more than $1 million in parking each year. I appreciate that’s a revenue source that helps keep a lid on taxes.

Nonetheless, parking shouldn’t be seen as a commodity that needs a higher and higher return.

If the downtown merchants and the chamber of commerce do their job in drawing visitors, and if they can make Lake Geneva more of a year-round recreation area, there should be plenty of parking revenue.

If the locals feel the council is on their side and not just the side of the merchants, they might give the city the benefit of the doubt on a parking referendum.

Those wanting to delve into the minutia of parking and traffic can go to the city website. Just search Google for “parking information – city of Lake Geneva.” On that page there are a couple of references.

On the far right there’s a summary of a book on why parking isn’t free. Near the bottom of the center portion is a link to last summer’s downtown parking study.

Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.

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