Previous attempts at instituting paid parking in Sarasota have gone over like a lead balloon, but the city is floating the idea again to help reduce a budget deficit.
The City Commission voted 3-2 Tuesday in favor of approving paid parking at the Palm Avenue parking garage. The garage has been free to park in since March 2012, when the city also removed parking meters from the streets.
According to the preliminary rate schedule, parking at the garage will remain free for the first 90 minutes. Parking will cost $1 for up to two hours and gradually increase hourly, until it reaches a maximum of $16 for more than 10 hours.
City Parking Operations Manager Mark Lyons said paid parking in the garage would reduce the department’s $500,000 deficit by about half.
“It’s an expensive facility, and it’s very important to maintain the facility property, so we need to try to recoup some of those expenses and offset our deficit,” Lyons said.
Lyons acknowledged that there’s nothing keeping people from avoiding parking in the garage altogether. Still, he believes maintaining free parking for the first 90 minutes will help bring people in. He also thinks the fees are reflective of the market, but said the parking division will monitor how the public is responding.
“We’re trying to provide some element of free and present a fair stratification of rates,” Lyons said. “We’ll have to watch it. We’ll have to look at it closely.”
He said the paid system could be in place within 30 to 45 days, and said more solid information about the implementation should be available within the next two weeks.
At Tuesday’s commission meeting, Commissioner Paul Caragiulo and Mayor Shannon Snyder were the dissenting votes.
Caragiulo said he was concerned about approving the measure without first hearing from the city’s Parking Advisory Committee. Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown said an earlier presentation indicated the Parking Advisory Committee was in favor of reinstituting street parking meters, rather than charging to park in the garage.
Snyder suggested privatizing the city’s garages would be a better way to make up for the parking department’s deficit.
“We don’t have a parking problem,” Snyder said. “We have an over-management problem.”
Still, the prevailing attitude among commissioners was that they didn’t want to charge for parking on the streets, and that they needed to recoup parking expenses.
“We need to cut this subsidy,” Commissioner Suzanne Atwell said. “We don’t want to put it in the street; I think we need to start in the garage.”
Commissioner Susan Chapman added she felt that businesses should be approached to contribute financially to adjacent parking garages, an idea she also pitched after the city declined to renew its lease of a parking lot in Burns Square. Lyons said that approach has been discussed, but has failed to find much support.
In addition to the paid parking at the Palm Avenue garage, the commission approved an employee parking-permit program. Employees can pay $10 per month to park all day at city lots or garages while at work. Lyons said this program would help open up street parking throughout the day.
Before the meeting, Lyons stressed he wasn’t trying to force paid parking onto the city. He said if the commission supported the measure, he hoped people would understand that the department had to find some way of moving closer to sustainability.
“I know many people have just the darkest thoughts of the parking community, but, in reality, it is a service,” Lyons said. “We have to change the culture in the community and the outlook on what parking management needs.”
Up to 90 minutes free
90 minutes to
2 hours $1
2-2.5 hours $2
2.5-3 hours $3
3-4 hours $5
4-5 hours $6
5-6 hours $8
6-8 hours $10
8-9 hours $12
9-10 hours $14
10+ hours $16