City considering fees associated with modern parking enforcement technology
The City Commission has set a public hearing for Nov. 4 on proposed new parking fees related to new equipment and enforcement.
This year, the city has been moving toward the installation of multi-space electronic pay stations on Central Avenue; license plate recognition equipment and software; as well as parking enforcement and back-end software.
During the Oct. 23 Parking Advisory Commission meeting, the group voted tor recommend that the City Commission approve the fees that will passed onto customers instead of absorbing them by the parking fund, which has dwindling funds.
Craig Raymond, city planning director, said “‘we’re dwindling our reserves really fast.”
Raymond said the parking system’s reserve fund was about $493,000 in March but now it’s about $350,000.
Raymond said that the city will likely have to forgo other projects until the revenues pick back up and the reserves can be rebuilt, but the slow downtown activity due to COVID-19 will likely slow that process.
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“The proposed software is designed to function with each element of the system: revenue control, enforcement, permit management, complete validation program and collections,” according to the city staff report.
The city has selected Passport Parking, which already serves as the city’s contractor for the mobile parking app, to handle those software aspects and the company uses a cost recovery structure the puts certain costs and fees on those users that use elements of the software versus spreading the entire cost equally across all users, according to the city.
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For example, the users who receive parking citations are assessed a $3 citation management platform fee, on top of their normal timed parking violation fine of $5, $10, $20 or $100.
Those who are cited and don’t pay the fine and fee within 30 days will be assessed a 25 percent fee above the total amount, according to the staff report.
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Additional fees will accumulate based on costs associated with letters and invoices sent and other collections efforts or the appeal process, according to the city staff report.
The proposal also includes a monthly $2.50 fee for those who purchase monthly parking passes for the garages or surface lots.
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The transaction fee for mobile payments for parking will be increased by 10 cents from a quarter to 35 cents.
The city has been looking at transitioning to the new pay stations and digital methods for parking enforcement after a series of events in the spring.
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A meter key went missing, causing staff to remove all of the meter heads in the event that the key had been stolen since it would give someone access to the money collected in the parking meters. Then the city suspended parking enforcement during the governor’s stay-home order for COVID-19 in an effort to help downtown businesses that were offering curbside pickup and delivery to stay afloat during the closures.
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The meter key was later recovered, but the situation led staff to “the realization that replacement of on-street parking meters and enforcement policies and procedures were necessary in order to provide a higher level of security, accountability and efficiency,” according to the staff report.
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The city also has the Passport Parking smartphone app that allows people to pay for parking from their mobile phones. City Planning Director Craig Raymond said usage has increased for the app, but the city is continuing to work on raising awareness of that option.
The city parking program has long struggled and in recent years made adjustment to the fees and fine structures to generate more revenue for needed repairs at the city’s two public garages. Discussion of replacing the older meters with newer technologies has been ongoing for years, but the events of early 2020 demonstrated that “certain failures are catastrophic to the health of the program fund balance and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances,” according to city staff.
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The suspension of most parking enforcement during the stay-home order and lack of parking enforcement caused a substantial decrease in the fund balance for the parking program since March. City staff is recommending the establishment of these user fees “so that traditional revenue streams can continue to be committed to operations and facility maintenance and improvements as we continue to recover from the economic consequence of suspending certain activities and fees while supporting the downtown businesses during the COVID pandemic,” according to the staff report.
The city ceased parking meter enforcement, effective March 19, due to the COVID-19 outbreak and resumed enforcement of the two-hour time limit June 22 but the meters have not been re-installed, meaning it’s free to park downtown currently, but the two-hour time limit is being enforced.
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Most of the user fees will pass through to Passport Parking but 10 cents of each 35 cent mobile payment for parking fee will remain with the city to help cover associated costs associated with merchant service fees and credit card transactions that the city will incur for offering the convenient payment options to customers, according to city staff.
In June, the city’s Parking Advisory Commission voted to recommend that the City Commission approve the purchase of the new pay stations and license plate reader technology for parking enforcement.
City staff is currently working on contracts and purchase agreements for those items.