As city commissioners listened this week to the dire budget forecast for the city’s parking operations, four out of five commissioners stated that paid parking needs to be instituted downtown as soon as possible.
“This is really troublesome,” said Commissioner Suzanne Atwell. “We’re running out of time and running out of money.”
The city is projecting the parking department will exhaust its fund balance by September 2011. In 2008, it had a fund balance of about $800,000.
A decline in parking-permit sales, fewer parking violators and a loss of metered space in its public parking lots has led to dramatically lower revenue for the department.
And now that the Palm Avenue parking garage is being added to the cost of operations, commissioners felt additional revenue needed to be generated.
“When the garage opens, for a period of time it should be free and lower Main (Street) should be metered,” said Mayor Kelly Kirschner.
The thinking behind that proposal is that no driver will pay to park in the Palm Avenue garage if more desirable on-street parking spots are free.
Some city officials fear without parking meters around the garage, the $12 million investment could be wasted.
During the past year, city commissioners have changed their minds several times over the implementation of paid parking (see box), but with the budget implications, almost all city commissioners are now voicing strong support for meters.
Commissioner Terry Turner, who has been opposed to parking meters in the past, told his fellow commissioners he had no new thoughts on the issue.
The city plans to complete a paid-parking proposal in November that would place meters around the Palm Avenue parking garage and around the county’s Ringling Boulevard parking garage at the judicial center.
It will take up to six months to put the meters into operation after commission approval.
ON AGAIN, OFF AGAIN
The city has gone back-and-forth about paid parking several times over the past year.
August 2009 — Commissioners approved parking meters around existing garages, but were not clear on which garages.
September 2009 — The August approval was rescinded, because city staff was confused with the commission’s direction and created a parking plan around all existing garages, which commissioners did not like. Then-Mayor Dick Clapp proposed a six-month series of public forums to educate the public and get its input.
December 2009 — After Susan Dodd, assistant to the city manager, presented her plan for the forums, the commission voted to cancel them and said the timing wasn’t right.
May 2010 — At the urging of commissioners, city staff polled the Downtown Sarasota Alliance, Downtown Improvement District and Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce about their feelings on paid parking. None approved of it, and the commission put off a decision until the July budget workshops.
July 21 — Commissioners asked the city to present a proposal in November for paid parking around the Palm Avenue parking garage and judicial center parking garage.