Kingston parking plan will include discounts for frequent users, rates to be announced later

While Mayor Steve Noble said Monday the new plan for city parking, which will double meter rates and end free parking in municipal lots, will offer long-term discount rates for residents and commuters, he said determining the amount of the resident/commuter discount will have to wait until the city picks a vendor to install payment kiosks in the lots.

Noble’s remarks came during a Nov. 21 meeting with the Common Council’s Finance Committee to discuss a new fee schedule for city services to be enacted in the 2017 budget.

Noble’s plan raises the cost of everything from sponsoring a softball team to throwing out a refrigerator; backers say the fee hikes will shift some of the cost for specialized services away from city taxpayers at large and toward those who actually use them. City Comptroller John Tuey noted that most of the fees have not been raised in years, leaving taxpayers citywide footing an increased proportion of the bill as personnel and other costs continue to climb.

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“We’re trying to keep that balance [between user fees and taxpayer-supported services],” said Tuey. “But if we don’t address fees periodically we’re going to get out of balance.”

While the mayor’s proposal covers a range of city services, changes to the parking plan are likely to have the greatest impact on the greatest number of city residents, commuters and visitors. The plan would raise the cost of metered on street parking from 50 cents to $1 per hour and the cost of a an expired meter ticket or citation for parking more than four hours at an on-street meter would rise from $20 to $25.

The biggest change in parking, however, was not contained in Noble’s proposed fee schedule. Instead, he told the committee that he would ask the council to lay the groundwork for the institution of paid parking in nine municipal lots that currently offer free parking. Noble said that his administration was currently in talks with vendors to implement a paid parking system in the city lots. Plans call for the payment kiosks to be in place by April 1, 2017.

Assuming rates at the municipal lots are in line with on-street meters, residents, commuters and other regular users of the lots could be on the hook for $200 a month or more, based on the hourly cost for the 10 hours the meters are in effect Monday through Saturday). While Noble promised the city would offer a lower-cost option for residents and other regular users, he did not offer a dollar figure. Noble said the terms of the price break would need to be worked out once a vendor had been selected to carry out the proposal.

“We’re not prepared today to discuss, because we haven’t picked a company yet, rates or passes or how it would work,” said Noble. “We’d like to prepare the [city] code to be able to accept those fees, but we don’t have to decide what they’ll be tonight.”

While business owners have expressed concern that the demise of free parking might impact business in areas of the city, like Uptown, where parking is already difficult, Noble and other supporters of the plan say these concerns are overblown. Noble noted that during a recent renovation of two Uptown lots that left the neighborhood down some 70 spaces, virtually no one used shuttle buses provided to ferry parkers from Kingston Plaza and business in the neighborhood did not appear adversely affected.

Finance Committee member Steve Schabot (D-Ward 8), who represents the Rondout business district, said that he didn’t believe the new parking fees would hurt merchants.

“Business owners think that if customers can’t park right outside their door, they’re going to leave and go out to the mall,” said Schabot. “But I don’t think that’s a deal-breaker.”

Noble added that the increased fees and metered lots would allow the city to spend money on improvements to an aging parking system. In particular Noble said, he wanted to implement a system that would allow users to replenish time at parking meters via smart phone. The new revenue would also pay for upkeep of the lots and eventually replace the city’s aging parking meters with new, more modern ones.

“People won’t be excited about paying for parking,” said Noble. “But they will be excited to see a parking lot with the kind of amenities they’re used to seeing in a nice business district in other cities.”

Besides parking, the other major change in Noble’s proposed fee schedule is a number of new or increased fees related to special events. Under Noble’s plan, all sponsors of special events will pay a $25 application fee. Other new fees include a sliding scale from $50 to $150 for street closures (depending on how many streets must be closed) and a $40-per-vendor fee to sell food or merchandise at special events. Another set of fees will apply only to non-government or community-sponsored private functions like film shoots that may require street closures and other city services. Organizers of those events will be charged hourly for the services of city employees. They will also have to pay for blocked parking.

Noble said the new special event fee schedule was largely a formalization of the city’s current practice of charging event sponsors on a case-by-case basis.

“The city has been doing much of this already in practice,” said Noble. “We thought it was time to put it down in writing.”

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