Board recommends rate hike for downtown parking meters to fund garage repairs

The city’s parking board voted Monday to recommend that the downtown meters be broken into zones and the rates be quadrupled, tripled and doubled.

The Parking Advisory Commission voted unanimously to recommend that the city increase meter rates to $2 on Central Avenue, from the Civic Center to 7th Street; $1.50 on the blocks immediately off Central in that area and around the county courthouse; and $1 in all other areas.

No change is proposed to the garage rates and PAC members said the purpose of the rate increase is to push people to park in the garages if they’re planning to spend more time downtown instead of taking up high demand spots on Central.

Great Falls parking board recommends taking on debt for downtown parking garage repairs

The proposal includes a recommendation that the city establish a parking validation program that downtown merchants could opt in to if they so choose; as well as upgrade city’s two parking garages with the technology to accommodate the validation program.

Missoula, Billings, and Helena all use parking meters in their downtown. Bozeman offers free two-hour parking downtown, but an overtime violation comes with a $20 fee and after two hours, a vehicle must move to a different block to avoid the fee. Bozeman’s parking garages were funded, in part, with taxpayer funds and parking is a growing concern in that city’s core.

The rate increases would generate the needed revenue to offset costs for lighting and security upgrades at the parking garages. Earlier this month, the PAC voted to recommend that the city incur debt to make those improvements. The parking program does not receive funding from the city’s general fund and relies on its own revenues to cover expenses.

Parking discussions have been similar for years, some action might be taken this fall

All of these proposals need City Commission approval. PAC members said they wanted to take the proposals to a December commission meeting, but also wanted to hold a variety of public meetings with downtown groups to make them aware of the proposal. It’s more likely that the proposals would go to a work session in December but not be considered for commission action until January.

Garage repairs and improvements are an estimated $568,908 plus another $145,000 of maintenance that would need to be completed in 2021.

A possible funding package discussed during the Oct. 8 meeting included $150,000 in reserve outlay, though reserves are dwindling; tax increment financing funds, contingent on Downtown Development Partnership and City Commission approval; and $268,908 in debt financing with an approximate annual $37,000 payment.

Dane Lyon from SP+, the city’s parking contractor, said that if the city increased the rate to $1 on Central, it would generate roughly an additional $95,000 for the parking program and if they increased it to $1 across the board for meter parking, that would generate an estimated $215,000 in additional revenue annually.

Those figures accounted for a 5 percent attrition rate, which Lyon said is typical when rates are increased.

The PAC’s proposed rate increases could generate $250,000 to $300,000 in additional revenue for the parking program, which would be used to fund the garage repairs.