Mayor Steve Noble plans to meet with members of the Common Council next week to propose a new parking scheme that would double the cost of metered on-street spots and install payment kiosks in municipal lots that currently offer free parking.
The plan is part of a larger proposal to institute or increase user fees on a number of city services. Noble has argued that user fees — including for services like parking that apply to those who don’t live or pay taxes in Kingston — are the fairest way to offset increased healthcare and other expenses while upgrading and modernizing city services.
“We need to be able to have the people who use those systems pay into the system,” said Noble.
The meeting with the council’s Finance Committee is set for Monday at 6 p.m. at City Hall. The sit-down comes as the committee is weighing Noble’s 2017 budget proposal. Noble said he hopes the fee increases and parking lot kiosk system will be included in the final budget approved by the council. If the council accepts Noble’s recommendation, on-street meter fees will rise from 50 cents per hour to $1. Meanwhile, the city will select a vendor to install payment kiosks or meters at all 11 municipal parking lots in the city. The city has already received responses from five parking management companies, according to the mayor. Three will be called in for interviews and the council will be asked to choose a winning candidate by Dec. 15. Current plans call for the parking lot kiosks to be installed by April 1, 2017.
Noble said this week that details of the new parking system still need to be worked out in collaboration with the chosen vendor. But the request for proposals issued by the city lays out some broad guidelines for how the system will function. The parking kiosks in the city lots will have to accept credit cards. Users will also receive notifications when their time is running out and be able to replenish payments remotely using a smart phone.
Discount for residents, commuters
The proposal also calls for reduced cost long-term parking options for residents and workers for city businesses who use the lots regularly. Noble said that he was also working to implement a system that would allow remote payment by phone for on-street meters. Noble said an app would allow users to make payments and an alert system would inform parking enforcement that a meter had been paid for. Noble described the app-based system as a “stopgap measure” until the current meters — which have about three more years of useful life remaining — are replaced by a new more modern system.
“We want to reduce the tickets and reduce the hassles and having to scrounge around for change and run out to feed the meter,” said Noble. “That seems to be what really aggravates people.”
Noble and other backers of the fee increases and new payment kiosks say that the proposal would rectify a situation where city taxpayers who never use the lots or don’t even own a car must still contribute the lots’ upkeep and improvements. Those costs are expected to grow in the coming years as the city replaces aging meters.
Alderman Doug Koop (D-Ward 2) who represents the Uptown Kingston business district where parking is a perennial issue, said this week that paid parking was near universal in cities across the country and world. Koop predicted that users would accept the pay-to-park plan the same way they’ve become accustomed to paying bridge and highway tolls.
“I absolutely support the mayor’s parking plan,” said Koop. “We pay less in taxes and we make it up in user fees.”
Not everybody on the council is sold on Noble’s parking plan. Minority Leader Deborah Brown (R-Ward 9) said that she needed to know more about the details. Brown said that she was unaware of Noble’s plan until last month when he announced it in his budget address. Brown added that she did not even know that the city had issued a request for proposals for parking kiosks. Brown said the last time the council discussed parking was in 2014 when then-alderman Brad Will did research and presented information about payment kiosks and other options to fellow lawmakers. The council never formally took up the issue.
“I cannot render any opinion until I see the proposal,” Brown wrote in an email.
Taking in opinions
Noble has been meeting with business and community leaders to discuss his proposed changes. Earlier this month, he sat down with members of the Kingston Uptown Business Association to discuss the proposal. Jane Garrity, a commercial lender at Catskill Hudson Bank and president of KUBA, said this week that the board had not met to discuss Noble’s proposal. But she anticipated that reaction among business leaders was likely to be “mixed.” Garrity said that she understood the fiscal pressures faced by the city and the need to meet obligations while keeping taxes down. Much of the business community’s response, she said, would depend on exactly how much workers who use the lots during weekdays would be asked to pay for monthly parking passes.
“You can’t charge $8 a day to secretaries and bartenders just to park,” said Garrity. “That’s outrageous.”