By Anna J. Mercatoris
When I heard on the radio recently that the Crawford County commissioners were discussing their concern about of a lack of parking in downtown Meadville, I became incensed. After all, there is abundant parking in various parking garages in town. I think everyone is aware that the parking garage on Market Street has ample space available.
What the commissioners appear to be concerned about here is free parking.
How is it in a town where the median income is $20,000, that county employees who make $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 and the commissioners at $60,000 would not simply pay for parking like any other business owner, customer or employee downtown. Parking downtown is approximately $600 a year.
I would like to highlight my point in the following example, yet there are certainly more. I have watched four employees enter a local retail store (likely making minimum wage, less than $20,000 per year) pay for a parking space to do their jobs. How in the world can the commissioners claim they are holding out for parking equality for county employees in the face of the working poor who pay for parking to be the working poor while county employees, making two, three, four or more times that amount are entitled to free parking?
I was told by Commissioner C. Sherman Allen that they never have any trouble filling county jobs. Do the commissioners really think that if county employees had to pay for parking, they would not take the job? If that were the case, I wouldn’t hire that type of person when I could have dedicated employees like those working downtown willfully paying parking for the privilege of employment.
How can the commissioners claim to be in favor of a strong downtown when one proposal suggests that they bus employees to and from Talon and the courthouse? Bus county employees through residential streets like children going to school? Certainly there is not a single business that could be frequented by bus riders. Yet these bus riders, county employees, would not exist but for the businesses and people of this town.
It was also suggested to me that the county employees were aged and could not walk from downtown parking spaces. I am completely baffled as to how the county has a disproportionate number of aged individuals to the rest of private sector Meadville. I know that my father, a local businessman and older gentleman, pays for parking to visit his downtown business, as do a number of his friends who own businesses.
It is unconscionable that the commissioners would protect and absolve a large number of Meadville’s working population from paying for parking. If more community workers were subjected to the parking fees the city imposes, there may be enough outrage to change it.
It should not go unnoticed by anyone that the commissioners, if they do go forward with a proposal to put county employee parking at the Talon site, are building a parking lot on a hill, a parking lot that overlooks the plight of downtown businesses that risk money and resources to provide jobs, goods and services in the hopes of a better life, overlooks and disrespects the working poor who are willing to take minimum wage jobs despite the extra expense of paying for parking and ironically overlooks perfectly good parking within blocks of the courthouse.
As for the proposal of building a $26 million two-story addition to the courthouse, I am again completely baffled. How is it that this group of commissioners has so accurately assessed the space needs of the courthouse at such a significant cost in contrast to those who could have purchased the Meadville Junior High School building for $50,000 just a few years ago. How is it sensible to spend $26 million when there is certainly more than enough rentable space in Meadville.
Do they need space or a spa? I question their clairvoyance in this matter, in looking at those on the school board who have renovated buildings to abandon them. My concern is twofold. I am not denying there may be space needs, but is it necessary to spend $26 million to address the need?
Building the commissioners’ state-of-the-art facility to the tune of $26 million may be completely equivalent to building bookshelves and card catalogs. In deference to the taxpayer, are they absolutely sure it is necessary to build at that expense and that the addition won’t be outdated, repurposed, under-utilized or even sold off in the future at a fraction of the original cost? And if they leased or rented space at a fraction of this proposed cost, would they possibly be able to provide tax relief to taxpayers rather than a potential tax increase?
It is not unprecedented for county offices to rent from businesses in the area. Domestic Relations is one such entity. With current Meadville rental prices, Domestic Relations could rent its current location for the next 400 years for what they want to spend on a two-story addition.
Anna J. Mercatoris is a Meadville business owner.