Few issues have been settled in the ongoing debate about parking in Easton.
But members of an ad hoc committee that's studying the issue agree on one thing, Mayor Sal Panto told city council Tuesday night: smart meters are a good idea and should be implemented in Easton soon.
“There was unanimous consensus about the smart meters,” when the committee met recently, Panto said.
In addition to the smart meters, the mayor said a multi-space box meter would also be implemented in the South Third Street parking lot. He said the contract will likely be presented to council in April and the new equipment is likely to be on the streets by summer.
Also likely is an extension from the current two-hour limit to three hours, though the new limit will be strictly enforced, Panto said, and a few other short-term meters may be given a half-hour limit. The new smart meters will be programmed to stop giving time credit once the limit has been reached.
Smart meters that take credit and debit cards are currently too expensive, said Panto, but the new multi-space box will take both, along with change and currency too.
Ultimately, the mayor would like to see smart meters capable of taking credit and debit cards, but he said at the current rate of 50 cents per hour for on-street, they would not be affordable for another few years.
“The minimum credit card charge is $1,” he said. “You can charge them from your smartphone.”
Other issues still being discussed include changes to hours of meter operation to better reflect when visitors are present, and encouraging more visitors to use the parking deck.
While there has been some talk of raising parking fines, they and parking rates seem likely to stay the same for now, Panto said, adding that the subject caused “a huge backlash in 2006” when the subject was last raised.
However, parking enforcement is still a matter of debate among business owners and residents.
“There are complaints that we're not doing enough for targeted enforcements, but on the flip side others say we're too tough,” said Public Safety Committee Chair Jeff Warren.
Currently, police are targeting the 200 block of Northampton Street after receiving complaints from one business about double-parking and temporary parking in handicapped spaces by customers of two other businesses, Easton Police Captain Michael Vangelo said.
More than 26,000 tickets for parking violations were issued by the city in 2010, he said, adding that he doesn't feel the city is overly aggressive about enforcement.
“I imagine there could have been twice that number if we wanted to,” Vangelo said.
Other than Downtown and other high traffic business areas, the police department usually doesn't go after parking violations unless responding to a specific complaint, he said.
He added that many parts of Easton have areas where residents regularly park illegally, such as in alleyways, and the city does not enforce the infractions because if it did “there would be nowhere left for anyone to park.”
“As the police, we just want to know what you want us to do, and we'll do it,” Vangelo told council members.
Currently, the city has about 986 metered parking spaces with six part-time parking enforcement officials on staff. Metered parking revenue generates an estimated $360,000 for the city's general fund annually, and about $500,000 in parking fines of all sorts, not just overtime parking, are taken in by the city in an average year. Enforcement, which is paid for by the city's general fund, costs about $110,000 per year, according to previous estimates from city administrator Glenn Steckman.