The days of 50-cent-an-hour metered parking, free street parking on Sundays and complimentary parking for city employees may be numbered .
Those things could all go away if Easton City Council acts on the recommendations in a parking study by Desman and Associates.
The company is also urging the city to change parking meter hours of operation to 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays from the current 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., with additional hours of noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays, along with raising the rate to as much as $1 per hour in prime Downtown areas.
"What we'd like to do is encourage more use of the Pine Street garage," Desman's Greg Shumate told city council Wednesday. "We think the time has come to implement those changes immediately."
He added the time and rate changes would discourage locals from parking on the street and free up more spots for visitors and turnover. The consulting firm is also recommending a small reduction in most fees for parking in the Pine Street garage to encourage people to park there instead.
"It's always important the on-street parking rate is correlated with the parking garage rate," Shumate said. "You always want people coming through town to find empty spaces."
The company also suggests the city set up website space where people can pay for parking in the Pine Street deck in advance and then print out a receipt to show proof of payment.
Following the firm's recommendations could raise parking revenue substantially for the city, Shumate said.
Additionally, Desman recommends the city invest in more technologically advanced equipment, such as smart meters or parking kiosks, as well as an upgraded system for the parking deck, and add a dedicated parking manager to oversee the operation on a day-to-day basis.
"The net effect of these changes we think is about $400,000," Shumate said.
The city currently generates about $675,000 annually from parking fees, which is uses to pay for city services for residents, said finance administrator Chris Hegele.
“Most if not all of the projected revenue would be taken up by debt revenue [to pay for the new intermodal building's parking deck],” Hegele added. "A critical component of this is to maintain ourselves at the $675,000 level."
When it comes to the planned facility, it's too early to tell what revenue would offset costs, he added.
“At this point, we're making assumptions on interest rates, and it's not even going to happen for at least a year,” Hegele said. “There's a lot of unknowns.”
And there are doubts about the changes, both from council members and residents.
Councilwoman El Warner said she feels whatever changes are made should be for the good of residents and to improve the parking situation, not just make more money for the city.
“I would hope any of these suggestions we may adopt would not be just so we can get some more revenue out of it or get the intermodal,” Warner said. “Because whatever we do, our residents and visitors have to live with it and pay for it.”
Councilman Roger Ruggles expressed skepticism the recommended investments would pay off.
“The estimated revenue is substantially lower than the estimated expenses,” he said.
Mayor Sal Panto said most of the suggestions were good ones, though some may not be implemented.
“We believe this is something we've thought about for a number of years,” he said, adding that his administration didn't tell Desman what to say.
“I think the money is to utilize the technology,” he said. “I think the pay stations are the way to go, but they're expensive...There's a lot of good things that could come out of this study.”
No matter how good the intentions, some members of the public said raising on-street parking rates would not be beneficial.
"As a merchant on Second, I've a very different story than what Desman and Associates tells,” said Anthony Marraccini, manager of Connexions. "If you raise rates and collection times, I see it cutting into my bottom line. When you say 75 cents per hour, I see 10 percent of my revenue going away."
Others worried how the changes would affect locals.
"It's my understanding that parking and parking meters are to control the flow of traffic," said Downtown resident and business owner Laini Abraham. "I have heard nothing about residents in this whole thing. If a resident can't afford the $100 [parking permit], they have to pay the meter. If you extend the hours, you're not just targeting visitors, you're targeting residents...Do you want to keep growing, or do you just want to piss people off?"
Main Street assistant manager Megan McBride said whatever new system the city chooses, it should take into consideration repeat local visitors to the city.
"Main Street is not anti-parking meter," she said, adding that she likes the idea of on-street parking that can accept credit cards. "The person I see that's penalized by our system is the loyal shopper. They're victims of overzealous enforcement."
She added the current $100 for a resident parking permit is a deterrent to people wanting to live Downtown.
Panto said some of the recommendations will not be implemented, such as raising monthly parking deck rates. He added the city may lower the resident permit parking fee, and it's thinking of implementing a discount parking deck rate for farmers market visitors to $3.
Panto said the city will study the recommendations, and there will be a public hearing or possibly two before officials vote on the matter officially, probably some time in June.