Increasing the hourly rate at most of the city’s parking meters from 20 cents to 50 cents, replacing the 12-hour meters surrounding Diamond Park with five-hour meters, upping monthly rental rates from $35 to $45, boosting the fine for parking at an expired meter from $3 to $15, eliminating the ability of merchants to void parking violation citations and hiring a full-time parking program manager are just a few of the changes recommended in a preliminary report by the consultants hired by Meadville to examine its parking system.

“A lot of the changes are things we can consider,” Mayor Richard Friedberg said in response to a presentation by Gregory Shumate of Desman Associates, New York-based architects, engineers and planners with offices in Cleveland, Chicago, Washington, Las Vegas, Boston, Hartford and Baltimore.

In response to a question about whether Desman had used rates charged by cities of Meadville’s size in preparing his recommendation, “the recommended user fees are based on the cost of maintaining the system,” Shumate said.

Based on an examination of the current system, including an extensive survey conducted, as Shumate described it, “on a beautiful day in April when no special events were taking place,” the recommendations would put the city’s parking program into the black as soon as 2009, partly by boosting the revenue generated by parking meter citations from the $68,335 projected for the 2008 budget to $148,134. Once people adjust their behavior, Shumate added, the annual meter citation revenue would probably stabilize at around $121,000.

According to the study, the number of parking spaces now available gives the city “lots of capacity for more growth downtown,” Shumate said.

However, there is substantial room for improvement. One of the first recommendations calls for the elimination of wrecked-car storage in city parking spaces. The wrecked vehicles are being stored in reserved parking spaces rented from the city by Howick Motors. “The vehicles are very unsightly,” Shumate said, noting that while the city is receiving income, “they are a blighting influence.”

The city’s parking program management also drew some critical comments. “The city setup is quite decentralized,” Shumate said. “Everybody seems to have a piece of the program.” Instead, he continued, the system should be centralized to allow for a birds-eye look. “If you’re managing a parking program, someone must watch the numbers,” he said, referring to both monthly rentals and coins deposited in meters. One key recommendation is to formulate and maintain a software database of permit sales, ramp/lot space designations and permit-holder space assignments, weekly meter revenue collections, daily parking ticket activity and meter damage and malfunctions.

“Inconsistent execution” was the first phrase used in the report to describe the city’s parking enforcement. “People know when the officers aren’t around,” Shumate said of the lesson learned during only a single day of observation. According to the report, two full-time enforcement officers who are not also assigned to other duties are required.

Discussing the recommendation to discontinue the practice of allowing merchants and businesses to void parking meter violations, “You’re allowing merchants to serve customers at taxpayer expense,” he said.

As for how the city utilizes its parking spaces, “Jurors are parking in the most valuable spaces in town for free,” Shumate said. Jurors get a pass for a full week — but may only be on duty for a single day, he added.

The report includes recommendations for moving some permit-parking spaces to other locations in order to add more meter parking spaces on ground level in city lots.

“It’s all over the map,” Shumate said about the amount of time a dime or quarter currently buys in city meters. For example, 25 cents buys 45 minutes on the first level of the Market Square ramp, 60 minutes in the Mill Run parking ramp and 90 minutes in the Academy Theatre, Arch Street, Park Avenue and Robert Smith parking lots. Those inconsistencies would be eliminated by a uniform 25 cents per half hour and 50 cents per hour.

Another recommendation is to eliminate 12-hour meters in all but the most remote locations. “Five hours max in front of the Courthouse,” Shumate said.

As for the current $3 fine for an expired meter, “The rate is too low,” Shumate said. “It’s cheaper to pay the fine than feed the meter.”

The bottom line, according to Shumate, is simple. “With these changes, you can address your parking program deficit and maybe start a reserve fund,” he said.

Council members will await the final report before beginning their discussion. Although a date has not been set for the final presentation, City Manager Joe Chriest said he expects to receive it in time to incorporate some suggestions into discussion of the budget for the 2009 fiscal year, which begins Jan. 1, 2009.



Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at mspicer@meadvilletribune.com

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