Kingston approves kiosks, ending free parking

A divided Kingston Common Council approved a measure that paves the way for the end of free parking in city-owned lots. On Tuesday, February 7 the council voted 6-3 to approve a $125,000 bond to purchase payment kiosks for nine city-owned lots.

Currently, parking in the city-owned lots is free. Once the kiosks are installed and active, users will have to pay 75 cents an hour to park.

Tuesday’s vote, which barely attained the six-vote supermajority needed to approve a bond, was the culmination of a process that began when mayor Steve Noble announced in October that he would seek to end free parking in the lots as part of his 2017 budget proposal. Noble and his supporters have argued that the parking lots amount to a “specialized city service” whose cost should be borne by users rather than by taxpayers at large. The projected $175,000 in annual revenue from the new kiosks, Noble said, would largely go to modernizing and improving the city’s parking infrastructure.

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But the plan has faced fierce opposition from business owners, residents and employees in Uptown Kingston who say that free parking helps the business district remain competitive with shopping plazas outside the city. Opponents also decried the plan to meter the lots as amounting to a sizable tax on people who live and work in the neighborhood and must park there all day every day.

Noble responded to the criticism with a compromise plan that would allow users to purchase an annual parking permit for just $10. Details of how the plan would work, and how long it would last, have not been released.

The proposal has also faced resistance on the common council. Three members, Deborah Brown, Maryann Mills and Nina Dawson, have consistently voted against the plan. In January, with alderman Doug Koop absent, the council had failed to achieve the six-vote supermajority needed to approve the bond. Last month, Mills halted a revote by citing a council rule that forbids lawmakers from bringing items voted down up for a revote at the next subsequent meeting.

With Koop present this Tuesday and the bond resolution set to pass, Mills claimed bringing the issue back before the council after it had been voted down was incompatible with the principles of open and transparent government.

“[The January “no” vote] was not the result that was wanted or expected, so it was submitted for a new vote,” said Mills.

Brown echoed the sentiments of half a dozen uptown propertyowners and merchants who argued that ending free parking in the lost would create a drag on a business district just beginning to flourish after years of decline.

“We’re getting there with hipster Kingston and economic growth, but we’re not there yet,” argued Brown. “And this new tax, this parking fee on everything, will tumble everything right back where we started.”

Koop, who represents the Uptown Business District, said that revenue from the kiosks was needed to balance a 2017 budget passed with no property-tax increase. Alderman Rennie Scott-Childress, recently appointed by Noble to a six-member commission charged with making recommendations on parking, called the kiosks “a smart and flexible tool” that would not only generate revenue but also generate data that could help the committee.

“It will allow us to tailor or parking strategies to our constituents,” said Scott-Childress.

With the bond approved and a vendor selected, the kiosks are expected to be installed in the lots this summer. Other elements of the Noble’s new parking scheme, including raising the rates on curbside parking meters from 50 cents to $1 an hour and the fines for overtime parking from $20 to $25, will go into effect on April 1.

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