Peggy Cushwa, owner of Maggie's Hang-Ups, read aloud to the council a petition - which she said had about 1,000 signatures - opposing the increase, which merchants say would make it more difficult to draw customers downtown and could turn some customers away.
"You have made an embarrassing situation for yourself and for the business people," Jack Staley, owner of Barnwood Books, told the council. He predicted businesses would leave downtown if the council approves the increase.
After the hearing, Finance Director Alfred Martin said he looks forward to hearing what funding alternative downtown business representatives can suggest at a planned meeting with city officials.
The city is proposing the changes, which it is estimated will bring in an additional $300,000, to pay for parking expenses that otherwise would have to be subsidized by the general fund, Martin said.
Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire suggested downtown businesses use a parking validation program under which customers would be reimbursed for parking in the parking deck at a discounted cost for the companies.
Newcomer said he publicizes the validation program but only two or three customers a month take advantage of it.
Cushwa said customers of her store at 105 N. Potomac St. refuse to park in the parking deck.
The city's proposed spending plan also includes a property tax rate increase of 1.5 cents per $100 of assessed value. For a home with an assessed value of $150,000, the increase would add $22.50 to the property owner's annual tax bill, Martin said.
June Myers testified that she comes and speaks each year against a tax hike but citizens know it won't stop the increases, "which is why we don't have a good turnout."
Two Hagerstown City Police lieutenants, Gary Spielman and William Carville Wright, testified about budget changes that would affect nonunion employees, including not getting a usual cost of living increase.
The budget also calls for cutting in half for nonunion employee the sick leave buyback program, which allows employees to sell back some of their unused sick days to the city each year.
Wright said he has had perfect work attendance for years and the change will hurt his salary but not affect his work performance.
Spielman, who said he was speaking for at least 100 nonunion employees, said the changes give less incentive for union employees to try to get promoted to nonunion management positions.
The sick leave buyback program for employees in the city's four union groups can't be changed until new contract language is negotiated, city officials said.
Parking fee increase
Cutting costs/raising taxes