Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Parking increase closer
Council includes $1 per hour rate in budget revenues

by Lisa Seiser

October 27, 2011

Despite some opposition, it appears the City Council is ready to raise parking rates to $1 per hour come spring.

Currently, the rate is 50 cents per hour, but on Monday night, the council moved through the first reading of an ordinance that would double that rate at the 948 stalls in the downtown area.

The council included an additional $400,000 in parking revenue to the city’s 2011 budget, which will have about a $350,000 surplus. That parking revenue increase is the projected amount the city expects to receive from doubling the rates.

The budget now will be published and will move to a public hearing Nov. 21, while the second reading of the ordinance to raise the parking rates will be on the agenda for a vote Nov. 14.

During a special budget meeting Tuesday, Oct. 18, it appeared as though most of the council members were in favor of the rate increase. That opinion didn’t seem to change Monday despite some opposition from some business owners and a Plan Commission member.

Business owner and Parking Commission chairman Kevin Fleming asked the council to reconsider doubling parking meter rates.

He suggested graduated increases or zone increases where prime spaces along Main Street may cost more per hour than those further away from the downtown.

Fleming also asked the council to not compare the city of Lake Geneva with Chicago. Rather, he suggested comparing Lake Geneva to Cedarburg, Oconomowoc, and Naperville and Galena, Ill. He said those areas have free parking.

“We understand the revenue from the meters is important,” he said.

Plan Commissioner Sarah Hill, who has voiced concerns regarding the parking issues during the past few years, said many parking issues must be dealt with as a whole.

“When you do this piecemeal, it looks as if we don’t know what we are doing,” she said.

Hill suggested that when people see the rate increase, they will believe it is tied to the purchase of the new parking kiosks. She suggested the council hold off on the rate increase until parking can be analyzed as a whole.

Alderman Todd Krause said the new kiosks were purchased using about $600,000 of Tax Incremental Financing money and $200,000 from the parking reserve fund. There was no borrowing for the machines. On Oct. 18, some council members talked about the additional revenue being used to replenish the money taken out of the parking fund.

Alderman Frank Marsala said he has been pushing for a parking rate increase for the past three years and is ready for it to happen. Marsala, who runs the American Legion Canteen near the beach, said he speaks with visitors all the time and they believe 50 cents an hour to park is a joke. He also said they think the $12 parking ticket is a joke, too.

Alderman Tom Hartz said Lake Geneva is a big draw and $1 per hour parking is not going to make a difference to shoppers. He said parking meters serve two purposes — to raise revenue and to move cars.

“There is a market rate here,” Hartz said. “We don’t know if $1 is it or not.”

Mayor Jim Connors, during the public comments portion of the Finance, License and Regulation Committee meeting, cited a UCLA professor who stated the goal of paying for parking is to maintain 85 percent occupancy and that charging for curb parking actually boosts area revenues.

He said the price will not chase people away and the market will determine what that price is.

“There are a lot of factors that go into this,” Connors said. “That fact is if parking is too cheap, people park all day and go to the beach.”

Dr. Donald Shoup has written that a municipality must find the right price for parking in a given area, according to an article about Shoup and curb parking in an story called “The New Space Race” by Randy Salzman for Thinking Highways.

“Not too high because then no one parks, not too low because then everyone stays and stays and there is never a space, but if you get parking prices just right, drivers come and go quickly without cruising for parking,” the article stated.

If the Lake Geneva ordinance is approved, the increased rates wouldn’t take effect until the new parking kiosk system is in place. That isn’t likely to occur until spring, according to City Administrator Dennis Jordan.

Two-hour free parking to stay?

It appears one opinion has changed for some aldermen from the Oct. 18 meeting. As of Monday night, it is not as clear whether the council will end the two hours of free parking in winter for nonresidents and visitors. City residents will continue to receive two free hours of parking throughout the year with a resident parking sticker. There was no discussion about changing that either Oct. 18 or Monday night.

Fleming was adamant during the public comments that the free two hours for nonresidents during the winter months continues, calling them “critical and crucial” to the success of business in the city during the off-season. Currently, starting Nov. 1 and ending April 30, “free two hour parking” signs are placed in each of the parking meters. That gives everyone free parking during the off-season months.

“Those two hours of free parking is extremely important for the retail businesses,” Fleming said. “Christmas is important for retail and we have some empty storefronts and I’m sure there will be more. They will fill up, too, but we need to think about that.”