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Merchants fighting city's plan to boost parking fees

April 17, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Some downtown merchants are collecting signatures from customers in a petition drive to convince the Hagerstown City Council to alter or reject a proposal to double to 50 cents per hour the cost of parking at metered spaces.

Merchants said the proposed increase will hurt some businesses as well as city efforts to revitalize downtown and may deter potential customers from coming downtown.

The city proposal sends a negative message to shoppers, Peggy Cushwa, owner of Maggie's Hang-Ups, said Tuesday.

"They are not making it appear shopper-friendly or business-friendly downtown," she said.

Cushwa and Tom Newcomer, president of R. Bruce Carson Jewelers, on Tuesday and Wednesday were distributing the petition to downtown merchants whose customers park in metered spots.

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"We want to both raise awareness and let the merchants and customers take a position on this," Newcomer said.

Carl Foreman, manager of Hoffman Clothiers at 15 N. Potomac St., had the petition on the counter by the cash register. The proposed increase is a bad idea, he said.

"I think it is ridiculous," Foreman said. "We are having a hard enough time right now downtown."

Foreman and other merchants said they have had a difficult time in recent months because of state Streetscape work. While that work was going on, some traffic lanes were temporarily closed and parking on West Washington and West Franklin streets was reduced.

The petition is addressed to the mayor and council. Written by Newcomer and Cushwa, it lists some of the reasons why they think a parking rate increase is a bad idea, including that it may give shoppers one more reason to shop elsewhere, at places without parking meters.

After Councilwoman Carol Moller raised the parking rate issue at the April 8 council work session, a majority of the council expressed support for the meter increase, provided the city find a way to address merchants' concerns.

One possible solution mentioned at the meeting would be to find a way for businesses to reimburse customers for their parking costs, perhaps through tokens.

Newcomer said he would support that idea.

"I'd much rather pay it than have the customers pay it," he said.

Cushwa said she would agree with that idea only if the city helped the businesses reimburse the customers.

Mayor William M. Breichner said he has concerns about petition drives of this type, because people do not always fully understand what they are signing. But Breichner said elected officials, himself included, do consider the viewpoints expressed and the number of petition signatures.

The city budget proposed last week by City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman calls for increasing the parking meter rates from 25 cents to 50 cents per hour and raising parking fines for expired meters from $7 to $10.

The proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 also calls for increasing the monthly permit fees for the parking deck from $40 to $45.

The city is proposing the changes, which it has been estimated will bring in an additional $300,000, to pay for parking expenses that otherwise would have to be subsidized by the general fund, Finance Director Al Martin said.

The city will have to find some other way to fund those expenses if it rejects the parking meter increase, city officials said.

Newcomer said he was not sure whether the increase would affect his business but said he was involved in the petition drive to help all downtown businesses, not just his.

William Haberlein, owner of Atomic Comics in downtown Hagerstown, said he would sign the petition because he opposes any increases of that type.

He said, however, he does not think the change will discourage his customers from visiting his store to buy comic books.




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