By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Patience has expired with the current parking meter fees to pay for downtown park lot expenses.
So on Monday evening, Bowling Green City Council will hear the first reading of an ordinance to double the parking fees from 25 cents to 50 cents per hour.
The price hike is proposed because the current parking rates are failing to pay for on-street and off-street public parking expenses in the downtown, explained Assistant Municipal Administrator Joe Fawcett. All the nickels, dimes and quarters – plus a portion of the parking fines – are supposed to pay for the parking paving, maintenance, enforcement personnel and equipment, parking meters, kiosks, and taxes on the lots.
The downtown parking fund gets no support from other city funds. The city’s 2018 budget projected a $21,000 deficit in the parking fund. That hole was filled by the fund’s balance, but that balance is dropping steadily, Fawcett said Friday afternoon.
Also looming over the parking budget is the fact that three of the four downtown parking lots need to be paved soon. The only one to be repaved since 2000 is Lot 2, behind Panera.
The proposed fee hikes should not come as a surprise to downtown merchants or the organization which represents them, Fawcett said.
“We’ve been trying to tell people as much as we can,” he said. “This is the culmination of conversations over the last couple years.”
Downtown businesses were advised of the proposed parking fee hike on City Council’s agenda.
“No one seemed surprised by that,” Fawcett said.
City officials hope customers coming downtown are not put off by the doubling of the parking fee. Though some may try to avoid pay parking, Fawcett said Bowling Green’s parking will still be a bargain compared to other cities in the region.
“We looked around the entire area. Even at 50 cents an hour, we are very competitive,” he said.
For at least six years, the parking lot revenue has had difficulty keeping up with the expenses, Fawcett said. In 2013 and 2015, the revenue “just barely” surpassed expenses. In 2014, the city broke even. The last three years, the expenses have been higher than the incoming coins.
“It has always been close,” he said.
The parking fees, plus a portion of the parking ticket revenue averages about $220,000 a year, Fawcett said. The fee hike is expected to help the fund recover.
“I think it would likely provide a temporary relief for that fund,” he said.
The parking ticket fees will not be increased. But the long-term parking charges used by apartment renters or businesses downtown are proposed to double. For example, the rate for one space for half a year will jump from $130 to $260.
The city’s goal was to gradually change all downtown city parking lots to kiosks rather than metered parking. The lot behind Panera is the city’s first experiment with parking kiosks.
“Our desire is to make paying for parking as easy as possible for people,” Fawcett said.
If kiosk parking is expanded to other city lots, it’s doubtful it will be the same type as already used in Lot 2, he said. At that point, Lot 2 would be retrofitted to be the same as the other lots.
“The ones we are looking at now are much more user friendly,” Fawcett said.