Easton business owners and residents like the idea of parking meters that take credit cards.
What they don't like: changing the meter-enforcement hours, enforcing meters on Sunday, and most of the other changes mentioned in the city's recent parking study.
That's according to a survey on parking issues discussed Tuesday evening at the city's second public forum on the parking study by Desman and Associates.
Balancing the varying needs of the city, businesses and residents when it comes to metered street parking is proving to be a thorny issue, and there's still not a lot of consensus on the issues.
While most of the 15 or so members of the public seemed in favor of reducing rates at the city's parking garage to encourage more people to use it, the possibility of meter rate hikes and other issues were largely contentious.
But the city says it needs more revenue to support programs such as the Main Street Initiative and the Ambassadors, and to buy and maintain the meters and parking garage itself.
“We can go into it and say the Farmers' Market makes 'x' amount of money, but how much do you think it costs the city?” asked Mayor Sal Panto. “We can't just keep doing the positive things without some sort of revenue.”
Diane Bower, owner of Just Around the Corner craft gallery, speaking on behalf of Main Street, the Easton Business Association and the Two Rivers Area Chamber of Commerce, said the survey showed a number of changes would be detrimental to their members and businesses in the area that parking is intended to serve.
On the list were:
- The possibility of changing metered parking hours to 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., instead of the current 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Raising the rate from 50 cents per hour to 75 cents or a dollar
- Implementing a two-hour limit for street parking. Even a three-hour limit, Bower said, would hurt a number of businesses and discourage people from strolling and browsing.
Citing the survey, answered by 65 local respondents, she said the addition of meters that take credit cards would, however, be welcome.
Panto said increased hourly rates may be necessary to pay for smart meters with the capability of accepting credit cards.
“What I'm talking about is credit card meters. I really like them,” he said. “But they're three times the price of regular meters. Someone needs to pay for that.”
Councilman Ken Brown opined that the suggested changes are likely necessary, even if they are unpopular.
“Change is hard, but change sometimes has to be done,” Brown said. “People have to understand the city is a business as well, and it needs to be run that way.”
While city officials seem likely to implement a number of Desman's recommendations, however unpopular, on the issue of time limits, they seem likely to be more flexible.
“I don't have a problem with three hours,” Panto said. “I have a problem with unlimited (time), because I know the issues.”
He added that the three hour limit shouldn't be a problem, despite that some businesses have formerly stated they have clients and customers that stay longer.
“Today's public doesn't walk around any more. They go where they're going, and they leave,” he added.
While some council members seemed unhappy with the business organizations' survey, Councilman Jeff Warren said he felt it was a good thing.
“Doing a survey is a very positive thing, I do believe that...I'm very sympathetic. I've talked with those business owners that are just getting by,” Warren said. “I unfortunately don't think we're going to make everyone happy...We're tasked with doing whatever is best for the city.”
He promised to keep everyone in mind when making a decision in voting on the matter.
Councilwoman Sandra Vulcano said she'd like to hear suggestions for solutions from the public.
“We're facing a very tough year and losing some programs,” she said. “We tried the NID...and the property owners rejected it. Please come back and give us some solutions because we know these programs work.”
Resident and business owner Laini Abraham said some solutions, such as a parking benefit district and a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement with Lafayette College have been presented, but council seems not to consider them.
“Please do not say that we haven't brought up solutions. We have,” she said. “Do you think nobody remembers this stuff?”
She added that raising taxes, however unpopular, is an option, along with implementing metered street parking into other commercial areas in the city.
“If you have to raise taxes, then raise taxes. At least it's honest that way,” Abraham said.
The question of where the revenue increased meter rates was also raised.
“We've heard (this is supposed to be) revenue neutral and now we're hearing we're going to raise money for Main Street and Ambassadors,” Bower said. “That's a little confusing.”
“The bulk of this money is directed at the operations of a (smart meter) system,” said city administrator Glenn Steckman.
Several people also questioned why the city seems to want to make the changes before a comprehensive parking plan is written.
“One of the reasons I felt it was important was...I don't want it to be part of revenue discussions and become part of the budget process,” Panto answered. “The only thing I've made my mind up on is that it needs to be changed.”
Panto said the city will revisit the issue again when Desman's final report is delivered, and that he expects the city will hold another hearing for public input on the matter shortly thereafter.
No date has been set, but he estimated it will happen towards the end of June or sometime in July.