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Parking system costs drop



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September 21, 2011 | 10:14 AM
City officials may have found a way to reduce the costs of a new automated parking pay station system recently believed to have a price tag of $935,000.

On Sept. 12, aldermen talked about the possibility of reducing the number of stations from 74 to about 60. That would drop the cost about $150,000 for the system that would replace the coin meters throughout the city's downtown business area.

For months, city officials have discussed a new parking system that would rid the downtown of the old, coin-operated parking meters and replace them with modern-looking, parking terminals which can accept coins, bills or credit cards.

However, it appeared as though some aldermen have been concerned about the price tag of the system.

Initially, city officials planned on the lower number of stations, between 48 and 60. Then, that number increased to 74 in an effort to accommodate those who park with more stations closer to their parking spaces.

"In recent days, we talked about maybe cutting back that number to less than 74," City Administrator Dennis Jordan said. "We thought maybe 60, which would take the (total) cost back to $760,000."

Alderman Frank Marsala agreed with the idea. He said he walked the city and was able to "eliminate 12 stations" from the previous mapping for 74.

The city currently has 948 parking meters in operation on streets and in five parking lots. The idea is to replace those meters with pay station kiosks from Digital Payment Technologies. It is expected that some of those kiosks will be solar powered.

The total cost of the delivery of 74 machines and one-time set up is $776,000. That would decrease to about $660,000 if there were only 60 stations. Beyond that, there will be an annual cost of $31,080 for reports, alerts and processing by the machines. Additional costs include connectivity ($35,000), electricity ($44,400) and signage and conversion of spaces ($45,000).

City officials said $300,000 will come from the city's parking reserve fund and the rest from already collected Tax Incremental Financing District money. Jordan, who has worked on this project for some time, said he would recommend the system even if the city would have had to borrow to install it.

In a memo he wrote to the council, Jordan stated the parking reserve fund could be paid back in two years if the council wished that to be the case. The city parking revenues would remain the same as they have been in that scenario, he wrote. After the second year, the general fund would receive the increase the new system would generate.

Jordan has said he believes the new parking system will "pay for itself" in about five years. He said it is typical to receive 28- to 30-percent increases in revenues with the system because those who park are able to pay in multiple ways and sometimes pay for more time than they need which is not left on the meter for the next person to use.

This year, the city anticipates $744,710 in parking revenues. That is expected to increase if the pay stations are installed. The pay stations also would allow the city to adjust its parking rates for different times of the day, week and year as well as for different areas of the downtown.

Alderman Terry O'Neill questioned the city's intentions and the affect the new stations could have on business.

"The primary purpose (of parking meters) is not (supposed to be) a revenue source, but that is what you're after," he said

O'Neill suggested the city will have to increase its parking rates, which would lead to fewer people downtown and a reduction in retail business.

"Nobody has specified rates," he said. "How much will the increase be and how much impact will it have? This isn't being discussed at all."

He also questioned how quick stops would be handled as well as resident parking. He said officials need more details on these issues. The question about resident parking was answered at the Sept. 5 Committee of the Whole meeting. Apparently, residents will continue to receive two free hours of parking, they would just have to plug in a code at the pay station to receive the free time.

Alderman Tom Hartz, who owns a restaurant and bakery on Broad Street, agreed in part with O'Neill about more details and specifics being necessary before a vote could occur. But, he disagreed with O'Neill's assumption about parking costs affect on retail business.

"The data doesn't support your theory that cheap parking creates better revenue," Hartz said. "It actually seems to be the opposite."

Alderman Todd Krause said officials have talked about a lot of the issues, but there still are some questions that need answers before a decision is made.

Marsala said the goal of the system is to make it "more user friendly" for visitors and continue to have parking as a source of revenue in the city.

"The meters have been here a long time and it is a source of revenue for the city," Marsala said. "We are a tourist town and we still have a budget. If (revenues) don't come from user fees, it will have to come from the taxpayers."

Aldermen also remained unsure of the connectivity options, which include a one-time cost for a city WiFi system. There also are other options, such as cell service installed in each of the kiosks. That would include an additional monthly service per machine, compared to the one-time installation for city WiFi.

The issue is expected to be on the Sept. 26 council agenda.

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