Experiment could decide if parking meters stay or goWhat would happen if River Falls had no downtown parking meters? Depending on what the City Council decides at its July 10 meeting, that question may be answered if it declares a proposed one-year moratorium on feeding the meters.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
What would happen if River Falls had no downtown parking meters? Depending on what the City Council decides at its July 10 meeting, that question may be answered if it declares a proposed one-year moratorium on feeding the meters.
Management Analyst Paul Fagin presented information at the June 26 council meeting -- a first reading of the potential law.
In collaboration with Police Chief Roger Leque, Fagin has conducted an analysis of parking in the city since last year.
He said at the meeting last week, “This analysis was prompted by the council with their approval of the 2011-2013 work plan.”
Fagin explained that everyone seems to have an opinion about maters and that it’s funny to hear them called quaint and charming when there was such a major backlash in 1970 when they were installed.
He explained that the analysis involved gathering public input, talking with different city employees, visiting with downtown business owners and studying other towns’ experience with parking meters.
The object was to emerge with a recommendation on what, if anything, to do with the aging meters on River Falls’ streets.
The study points to “full replacement or removal of the equipment.”
The analysis also revealed that the cost to replace or upgrade the meters reaches six figures and varies according to the chosen options.
“As we reflected on everything we learned,” said Fagin, “we realized that there was a critical piece of the puzzle we still hadn’t figured out.”
While the arguments about meters have gone on for as long as they’ve been on River Falls streets, Fagin pointed out that there was no way to know for sure what happens without them other than to be without them for a while.
He said a one-year moratorium on parking meters would enable the city to also analyze the hotly debated issue of parking turnover.
Many people believe the limited-time meters are needed to make sure downtown-shopping patrons can find an available space. Others believe they are an outdated hassle, saying people don’t carry pennies, nickels and dimes with them anymore.
Other problematic parking-meter issues: They freeze in winter and must be thawed with a torch; their age makes finding replacement parts hard; and if money in them gets wet, it must be dried off before it can be deposited.
Fagin cited parking studies conducted in 1989, 1999 and 2000 that all said “get rid of the meters.”
“One thing we did see with expenditures,” said Fagin, “they were increasing year to year.”
The study looked at revenues and expenditures from 2005 through 2011. Generally, revenue decreased because of fewer violations and expenditures increases were linked to costs of salaries and benefits related to meter monitoring, about 65% of the total cost.
In 2005, revenues were at $70,250 and expenses were at $45,189. In 2011, revenues came in at $64,897 and expenses at $72,248.
One long-held tenet of the parking meter system is that it should be a self-sustaining fund.
“Our thinking is we’ll find out what specific areas are having problems with turnover of vehicles,” said Leque about the study. “We wanted to get a picture of what our community looks like over a year.”
Fagin said a yearlong period will give the city a chance to study parking during all four seasons, as well as to see all the different business and school-year parking patterns. He and Leque said the meter hiatus would also give them a chance to talk with business owners and other community members to see how it is going and at the end of a year, make a recommendation.
Their memo-type report to the city says the moratorium gives the city a chance to answer the question: “Do we require a formal parking-enforcement program in downtown River Falls?”
Read more details on this story in the July 5 print edition of the River Falls Journal.