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City eyes parking rate hikes to balance fund shortfall

March 12, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

Downtown Hagerstown shoppers could be paying 25 cents more per hour to park this summer.

The city's parking fund is losing money and if rates aren't increased, the city may have to subsidize the parking fund with general fund money, City Finance Director Al Martin said. If that happens, the property tax rate could go up, he said.

Martin presented proposed parking fees to the mayor and City Council at Tuesday's work session. He said he will work the increases into the proposed budget.

The proposal calls for increasing monthly parking rates by $5 and increasing meter rates to 50 cents or $1 an hour. Most parking meters charge 25 cents an hour now.

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The increase would be to 50 cents in most cases with $1 an hour rates at high-demand or short-term parking areas such as the Antietam Lot, Martin said.

The proposal also calls for increasing parking deck fees for special events from $3 to $5 and from $5 to $10 for the Western Maryland Blues Fest. Martin said the city probably was undercharging for parking for an event the size of the Blues Fest.

The parking fee increases were proposed because the current fees aren't paying for the cost of creating new parking spaces, Martin said. A new parking space can cost $8,000 to $20,000 depending on land acquisition costs, construction and whether demolition is needed.

The city lost about $100,000 in parking revenue this fiscal year because of business lost during the streetscape work and snowstorm, and more customer friendly parking enforcement, Martin said.

The estimated parking deficit for this fiscal year is $286,802, according to projections. The city could have a $59,844 surplus next fiscal year with the fee increases, Martin said.

To increase rates, the city needs to buy new parking mechanisms for 600 of its 900 meters that will make it easier to change the fee amount, Martin said. The $90,000 cost could be financed during five years with a tax-exempt lease.

Councilman Lewis Metzner said it would be foolish for city officials to raise parking fees without giving the city's parking validation program a major push.

The validation and parking deck coupon programs aren't well known, Metzner said.

The validation program began a few years ago, Martin said. It allows participating downtown merchants to stamp or validate customers' parking tickets. Then the merchant pays for the parking, not the customer.

Merchants and businesses can buy the coupon book and give parking deck coupons to their customers, he said.

City officials also told Martin to explore a premium parking program like one in Harrisburg, Pa. That program allows customers to pay $155 a month for a reserved parking space that bears their name.

Councilman Kristin Aleshire wants to consider free parking during the lunch hour and Councilman Linn Hendershot wants to consider valet parking for special events. Some people may be willing to pay for the convenience and safety of valet parking for special events, such as concerts at The Maryland Theatre, Hendershot said.

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