Last week, Mayor Steve Noble announced new details of his plan to introduce paid parking in all city-owned (and heretofore free) lots, including what people will be charged for long-term permits. The mayor also announced that he would end the city’s traditional suspension of parking meter enforcement during the Christmas shopping season and instead institute free parking on a few select days and a year-end amnesty for parking scofflaws.
In October, Noble announced that he planned to raise revenue by increasing the fees paid for parking citywide. In addition to raising the cost of metered parking from 50 cents to $1 per hour, Noble plan also calls for the installation of payment kiosks in nine city-owned lots where parking is currently free. Noble said the move is intended to help offset the cost of maintaining the lots and other parking infrastructure while shifting the burden from the city’s tax base at large to those who actually use the lots. The city is currently in talks with vendors who could install the kiosks. Plans presented to the Common Council call for the proposal to take effect by April 1.
At a Dec. 1 meeting at Frank Guido’s Little Italy with the Business Alliance of Kingston, Noble offered a few new details about the plan. Those who live or work in the Uptown business district and rely on the municipal lots for daily day-long parking have expressed concern about how much they will have to pay. At the BAK meeting, Noble announced that regular users of the lots would be able to purchase monthly parking passes for $40 or an annual pass for $400. Parking in the lots on an hourly basis would also be cheaper than street-side meters running 75 cents per hour instead of $1. After the meeting, the mayor’s office said the purchase of a permit would not guarantee a parking space on any given day.
The mayor said he hoped to have the kiosks up and running by April 1 of next year, and that on-street meters will start to be replaced with newer, credit card-taking models over the next two or three years. Noble touted planned improvements as the city rolls out the upgrades to parking lots and meters, including an ability to use a credit card at the kiosks, as well as the ability to use a smartphone app to add time without having to go back to one’s car.
Noble acknowledged that getting people to pay for something they’re getting for free isn’t easy, or popular. “It’s the sacred cow that nobody before me wanted to touch,” he said, later adding, “I know this is going to help me never get elected again.”
But the mayor argued that Kingston charges less than other cities for parking and noted that charging for parking leads to vehicle turnover, which in turn helps shoppers find spaces. He offered some hope for the future in noting that the city has had some interest shown in a recent request for proposals to redevelop the site of the Schwenk Drive lot, where the city’s ill-fated parking garage once stood. “There will be nothing built on that site without a public parking garage included,” said Noble, adding that the city can’t afford on its own to pay the estimated $15 million cost to erect its own parking garage.
(Almost) no free parking
Noble also used the BAK meeting to poll business owners on the city’s traditional practice of suspending parking meter enforcement during the last two weeks of December. After a tepid response, Noble announced that he would do away with the tradition. Merchants Uptown have complained that the annual parking giveaway simply encourages those who live and work in the neighborhood to park on the streets instead of the free lots, thereby denying convenient parking to shoppers. Instead, the city will offer free parking on just four dates; Friday, Dec. 23, Saturday, Dec. 24, Monday, Dec. 26 and Monday, Jan. 2.
“As I have stated throughout the budget season, it is critical to the success of our small business community, particularly during the bustling holiday shopping season, to encourage on-street parking turnover,” said Noble in an emailed response to questions about holiday parking.
Noble also announced a new twist on holiday parking — an amnesty on late fees for unpaid parking tickets. Currently the city’s $20 expired meter tickets double to $40 if not paid within 14 days. (Next year tickets will go up to $25 and double to $50 for late payment.) Under Noble’s amnesty plan the late fee on any tickets written before Dec. 1 will be waived if the tickets are paid in person at City Hall between Dec. 15 and Dec. 30. Tickets can be paid at the City Comptroller’s Office between 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (The office will be closed on Dec. 23 and 26 for Christmas.)
Noble is also asking amnesty-seekers to bring in non-perishable food items for donation to local food pantries. The donation is not required to take advantage of the amnesty.
“I believe this is an excellent opportunity for individuals to settle these lingering citations at a lower cost and, if they so choose, help their fellow neighbors,” the mayor said.
The Common Council has already approved Noble’s plan to raise rates on parking meters and approved a budget that includes revenue from the payment kiosks. But Council Minority Leader Deborah Brown (who voted against the budget) criticized the proposal. Brown (R-Ward 9) said she believed the demise of free parking would simply add to the financial burdens of people who are already paying their way for city services.
“The people who use those lots, more than likely are residents and business owners who already pay taxes,” said Brown. “This is almost like another tax that they can’t afford.”