City working on more security upgrades, permanent LPR for garages; addressing motor vehicle records access issue

Security cameras and repairs to a leak that’s impacting an electrical panel are coming to the city parking garages.

In 2019, the City Commission approved the use of $450,000 in downtown tax increment financing funds to use for the repairs and upgrades and staff is planning to use about $400,000 in reserves to funds those projects and avoid taking on debt.

Some of those projects were delayed during COVID and during their Oct. 21 meeting, Planning Director Craig Raymond told the Parking Advisory Commission that there’s about $183,000 of TIF funds remaining.

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He said he’s working on moving forward with the projects already approved and getting bids for security cameras in both city parking garages, as well as getting bids to address the water issues with the electrical panel in the north garage.

“It’s not the huge repairs we want to do, but it’s want we have the money to do,” Raymond told the PAC.

The city already upgraded lights in both parking garages.

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Kaite Hanning, PAC chair, said “I’m so excited” about adding the cameras to the improved lighting to increase security in the garages.

Raymond said he wanted the PAC to start thinking about the possibility of installing permanent license plate readers in both garages that could capture license plates coming in and out of the garages.

The would allow the city to expand its garage operating hours without needing additional staff.

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Raymond said as the downtown is developing, particularly in the case of bars, restaurants and event centers, he said it would allow the city to offer the garages to support those parking needs.

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Raymond said it’s a larger discussion about expanding operating hours but that it would be prudent to start thinking about it now to be prepared as the downtown continues to develop.

Hanning said she thinks it will be good to think ahead and people will have to have the option to park in the garages, as well as a need for downtown parking.

“I think we’re there as a city,” she said. “I think we’re going to be glad to have the garages.”

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Raymond said the city is also having difficulties getting motor vehicle records in regards to vehicle ownership to send invoices for nonpayment of parking violations.

The Great Falls Police Department has been reluctant to share their access, since they have more sensitive information, Raymond said, though parking staff aren’t requesting that information.

Some PAC members suggested that the GFPD handle gathering the vehicle ownership information, though that’s not likely to be approved by GFPD officials, as they’re already strained with other tasks.

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Raymond said they’ve been attempting to get the information from the state, but were denied a request because they were the first entity to make such a request, he said.

The issue has resulted in about $30,000 in unpaid parking tickets from May through Oct. 21 because the city can’t get names and addresses associated with vehicles to send invoices.

“It can’t just be ignored anymore, somebody’s got to help us find a solution,” Raymond said.

He said he’ll be making the commission aware and officials with SP+ said they were also working on the issue.