Facing a $128,932 deficit in the city’s parking fund, Meadville City Council has agreed to increase parking enforcement and instituting promotions to bring more drivers to the city’s new parking deck.

Council agreed at a budget meeting this week that measures need to be taken to stave off a continuing drain on parking reserve money, which will dry up by 2009. The parking fund is proposed at $457,783, up $64,092 from 2005. There is one employee paid by the fund.

City Finance Director Tim Groves said it’s long been known that the fund will run out of reserves at the end of 2008.

The new Market Square Parking Deck, completed last year as part of Impact Meadville, a $14 million downtown residential, commercial and parking project on the three blocks north of the Meadville Market House, is also losing money. Most of it has sat unused, and though the city knew it wouldn’t be full from day one, its performance has been poorer than expected.

“It’s well-known we built that for future use,” Groves said. “It is less than we’d hoped. It’s hoped we’ll get more interest in that area, that people wanted covered parking.”

Toward that end, council agreed to offer promotions to entice more drivers to rent spaces. Suggestions at the meeting included giving one to three months rent-free for new drivers who sign a year agreement.

Groves said there’s also been less use of metered spaces. If there were more cars using meters and the new deck were full, the deficit could largely be made up. “We’ve not been able to find any new revenue sources other than tax dollars,” he said, noting council does not want to subsidize the parking with tax money.

Council raised monthly parking space rentals early this year to $25 uncovered and $35 covered, a $5 increase. He said the number of drivers renting spaces didn’t drop after the rate hike, but further increases could be unwise.

The city gets revenue of about $60,000 in parking tickets each year, a number that council believes can be boosted by filling a part-time meter enforcement position to join the full-time officer.

There were more suggestions as well:

- Councilwoman Jean Jones suggested doubling the meter charges, which could persuade more people to rent a space downtown on a monthly basis.

- City Manager Joe Chriest suggested enforcing meter use round the clock. Now, the city only enforces meter use from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, but Chriest said having constant meter use, especially at night, could bring in more money. Councilman Butch Kasbee agreed. He said with so many bars and so much nightlife downtown, “Why aren’t we charging them to park?”

Councilman LeRoy Stearns was less enthusiastic, asking rhetorically if the meters were designed to keep vehicles from parking in the same spots all day rather than as a revenue source.

- Chriest suggested installing meters on North Main Street and Park Avenue between Loomis and Allegheny streets. He said it would not impact homeowners because most of the properties are non-residential college buildings. He said about 100 meters could be installed, bringing in $75,000 to $90,000 a year.

Councilman Mike Jewell suggested having the meters and banning overnight parking during winter to accommodate snow plowing.

Gary Johnson can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at gjohnson@meadvilletribune.com

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