Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

New parking pay stations on the way

by Lisa Seiser

September 29, 2011

In spring, visitors to Lake Geneva no longer will have to dig in their pockets or their car consoles for quarters or ask businesses to supply them with change to plug the parking meters.

Instead, they will park their cars, find the closest pay station, type in the number of their spaces and pay using cash, credit cards or even coins if they prefer.

On Monday night, the City Council voted in favor of spending $810,000 for 60 pay station kiosks, signage, installation, connectivity and more. Annual costs will be about $50,000 for the system. The system will be paid for with $200,000 from the parking fund and the rest will come from already collected Tax Incremental Financing District money.

For months, city officials discussed a computerized, interconnected parking system that would rid the downtown of the old, coin-operated meters and replace them with modern-looking terminals which can accept coins, bills or credit cards. The approval was on a 6-2 vote, with Frank Marsala and Ellyn Kehoe voting against.

The city has 948 parking meters on its streets and in five parking lots. The 60 pay station kiosks from Digital Payment Technologies will replace the meters.

Prior to voting, aldermen called the new system user-friendly and said it was moving the city into the future.

City Administrator Dennis Jordan said his information shows there will be at least a 10- to 20-percent increase in revenues from the system. He said other benefits could include fewer parking tickets, the ability to pay for parking using a cell phone, the ability to change parking rates easily and improved tracking.

Nearly all of the kiosks are expected to be solar and will be operated using a cellular network allowing the machines to communicate with City Hall and each other.

Jordan said once the machines arrive, it will take about two weeks to install the system and one week for training on it. The biggest hurdle will be helping visitors and residents understand how the machines work.

“This is going toward the future,” Alderman Al Kupsik said. “It is time for a change and this is the way to go.”

Marsala said the system is a temporary expenditure for a revenue source in the city.

“It will pay for itself,” Marsala said. “This is an investment into the city. This is a good thing for the city.”

However, some residents who spoke during the comments suggested the concept, “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”

Former Alderman Pete Peterson voiced concern about the costs of the system. He also questioned the statements made by city officials that the system will increase revenue.

“It doesn’t financially add up,” Peterson said.

He said the only way to increase revenue from parking would be to increase the number of spaces or increase the rate. He also voiced concern about the impact on residents, who he said would now have to park their cars, walk to a pay station and type in several numbers.

Jordan said other communities that use parking systems such as this have seen an increase in revenue and that increase should at least fund the additional monthly costs of the system. However, he also said he is unsure of the efficiency of the previous systems those municipalities used.

At times during the past year, aldermen have talked about the possibility of different parking rates for various areas and increasing the cost of parking per hour in the downtown.

Alderman Todd Krause said decisions on rates and how resident parking and stickers would be handled will be discussed at a later time.

“A lot of these items we will decide as time goes on,” Krause said. “We are trying to find the right system and then implement it. I think the rates need to go up. This (system) will make more revenue and will be more convenient for tourists.”

According to city officials, the city’s current coin meters also are becoming obsolete. About one-third of the meters used now date back to the 1950s. Jordan said there no longer are parts available for the mechanical meters.

Krause and Kupsik agreed the city must figure out how to deal with resident parking.

“That is a concern and I don’t like the ongoing expense, which we don’t have now,” Krause said.

Kupsik said his biggest issue is how to deal with resident parking.

“We need to try to make it as convenient for residents as we can,” he said.

Alderman Tom Hartz said the city needs to do something with the parking meters.

“Using our current meters (into the future) really isn’t an option,” he said. “We can’t repair the meters we have, so we must do something.”

“It is time we move into a new era,” Alderman Bill Mott said. “The system we have is either obsolete or moving in that direction.”

But Hartz was quick to point out the system is not a solution to the city’s parking issues.

“This is a solution to an outdated meter system,” he said. “It does allow us to capture revenue in a more efficient way and track the revenue. It also provides a consumer-friendly system.”

Resident Gary Milliette questioned the bidding process and cited another firm which the city did not send a bid proposal. He suggested something wasn’t right because only two companies returned bids to the city.

“This really smells bad,” he said.

Jordan said the city sent out detailed requests to eight vendors listing specifications desired. He found the companies using a Google search and the company Milliette referred to was not among those listed at the time Jordan was first searching for parking system companies.

“This wasn’t something staff dreamed up,” Jordan said. “I resent when people say something’s fishy. I’m not getting any money from the company who gets this.”

He said not every company bid because of the specifics of functions the city was looking for, including the ability to pay using a cell phone, the ability take credit cards, cash and coins and the function to accept payment of parking tickets at the pay station.

Jordan previously estimated a total cost of $999,000 for the parking system, but later found options less costly. Aldermen also agreed to drop the number of kiosks from 74 to about 60.

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 last month, he stated the parking reserve fund could be paid back in two years if the council wished that to be the case. The city 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.

This year, the city anticipates $744,710 in parking revenues. The sellers of the systems suggested the city would increase its total parking revenue with the stations because people just use a credit card and often pay for more time than they need.