The city’s parking department could be operating at a deficit of $500,000 in a little more than two years.
Susan Dodd, parking general manager, said there are three reasons for the problem: a decline in parking-permit sales, fewer parking violators and a loss of metered spaces.
The temporary free-parking program for downtown employees that ended last year, which was intended to encourage them to park off Main Street, resulted in a 60% drop in parking-permit sales. Another major revenue hit occurred when the city ceded control of the State Street parking lot to the developers of Pineapple Square, who plan to build a parking garage there. That parking lot accounted for half of the city’s metered spaces, and it no longer collects that money. Pineapple Square will pay the city $1 million once the garage is complete. The garage is part of the third phase of development and has no construction timeframe yet.
And, the city-owned parking garage to be built on Palm Avenue could make the financial situation worse for the parking department. The operation and management of that garage is expected to cost about $225,000 per year, which would put the department’s deficit at $725,000. It has yet to be determined if the parking department will incur all of those costs.
The department’s current budget is $1.05 million, but Dodd plans to cut the budget by about $200,000 next year, much of it through salaries and benefits.
There are currently eight employees in the department’s two divisions: collections and enforcement. In next year’s budget, Dodd will downgrade one position from a supervisor to a specialist, which has a lower salary. And, in each of the past two years, she eliminated a vacant parking-enforcement officer position.
There are now three full-time officers and one part-time officer.
Dodd says the elimination of those positions has made the department more efficient. There has not been a drop in the number of tickets written. Each officer issues about 3,500 citations per year.
Because of the changes, Dodd said she has little room left in which to maneuver with her personnel.
The solution, Dodd said, is to balance the available parking with parking meters on Main Street. Those are the most desirable parking spaces, but they’re currently free, while some less desirable spots further away are metered or require permits.
“We are not trying to save our jobs (with parking meters),” she said. “We have an imbalance, and it will end up hurting merchants.”
Dodd said meters will help the turnover rate on those Main Street parking spaces, especially those occupied by downtown employees who previously just moved from one space to another to avoid a ticket.
RESERVES RUNNING ON EMPTY
About five years ago, the city’s parking department had $1 million in its reserves fund but several factors have caused the city to dip into those reserves to pay for parking-related items.
Those items include: operation and maintenance of the Whole Foods parking garage; the creation of a parking manager position; an increase in post-retirement benefit costs; fewer parking-permit sales; fewer parking violators; and the 18-month free-parking program the city offered to downtown employees.
Revenue sharing proposal
The Downtown Partnership has asked the city’s parking department to consider sharing parking-meter revenue with merchants.
“We feel the merchants will support paid parking if they receive some of the money,” said Andy Dorr, Downtown Partnership member and vice president at Githler Development.
Dorr asked Susan Dodd, general manager of the city’s parking department, to give him two months to convince merchants to support the plan.
Dorr suggests using all proceeds after the city covers its expenses to make downtown improvements.
Dodd said she’s always been open to profit sharing, but she does not yet have a plan for it, because no group approached her before the Partnership or indicated how much money they wanted.
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