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Sarasota Thursday, Apr. 25, 2019 4 months ago

Sarasota hires staff ahead of paid parking expansion

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The city is getting ready for the implementation of paid parking downtown, set to take place this summer.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Two months ahead of the planned installation of parking meters in downtown Sarasota, Mark Lyons is working to ensure the city is prepared.

Lyons, the city’s parking manager, appeared at the April 15 City Commission meeting as part of his efforts to lay the groundwork for the expansion of paid parking, which began earlier this year in St. Armands Circle. Lyons asked the commission to approve the funding of two new positions: one to manage parking operations, the other to fulfill administrative responsibilities.

Lyons fielded some questions about the expense associated with the new positions, which will carry an annual expense of $122,000. But he said the requests were necessary to handle the expanding scope of work in 2019.

“Where we were doing only about $1.7 million in revenue, we’re now going to be accelerating to close to $4 million in revenue by the end of the year,” Lyons said. “So we have to take a serious approach to how we manage this.”

The commission voted 3-2 to approve the new positions, with Commissioners Hagen Brody and Shelli Freeland Eddie voting no.

Concurrent with the staffing expansion, Lyons is working with a citizen advisory board to refine the city’s plans for paid parking downtown. The city intends to install a majority of the pay stations on Main Street, extending from School Avenue to Gulfstream Avenue. Some meters will also be installed on Palm Avenue and on Ringling Boulevard near the county judicial district.

Lyons said he’s been working with the Parking Advisory Committee in an effort to make sure the paid parking system is as well tailored to downtown as possible. The work speaks to the previous failures of paid parking in Sarasota. In 2012, the city ended a downtown meter program one year after it begun, a response to vocal criticism from merchants and the public.

Lyons doesn’t think that experience means paid parking can’t work downtown. This time, he says, the equipment is easier to use. Along with the committee, he’s plotting ways to make merchants and visitors more amenable to the prospect of paying to park. Revenue will be reinvested into the area where the meters are installed. There will be a 10-minute free period for visitors.

The committee is discussing a “get out of jail card,” based on a system in place in St. Petersburg. The concept is to give first-time parking violators the opportunity to have their fines waived if they show proof they were patronizing a local business; the committee discussed a $25 benchmark.

The city is planning on implementing paid parking in phases, starting in the judicial district in late June and moving west. 

“Just because we implement right away doesn’t mean we can’t modify things,” Lyons said. “We’ll listen to everybody.”

At the April 15 meeting, Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown suggested the influx of revenue could have another effect on the parking department: eliminating a deficit that has cost the city’s general fund millions of dollars.

“He may not need a subsidy from the general fund to sustain the budget for the next fiscal year,” Brown said.

Lyons said the finance department is still working on a proposed budget ahead of workshops scheduled for July. He wasn’t certain the department could operate without a subsidy in fiscal year 2020, but he said paid parking revenue would help make parking operations more sustainable going forward.

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