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Brattleboro plans more ways to pay more for parking

With new parking plan, payment flexibility comes with a higher price tag

BRATTLEBORO—By the new year, you can expect more ways to pay for parking downtown.

It will also cost you more.

A complete overhaul of the town’s parking system will involve replacing 196 parking meters and installing 15 new kiosks.

A parking discussion at the Aug. 7 regular Selectboard meeting that lasted well over an hour resulted in four motions. All advanced the proposal to replace the town’s meters and pay-and-display machines with “smart meters” and kiosks that will accept coins, credit and debit cards, and smartphone applications.

These plans come after town staff contracted with Desman Design Management to conduct a study and survey of the town’s parking system.

Through a national procurement program, town manager staff chose the San Diego-based IPS Group to provide the machines and the information management systems.

To pay for the new equipment and its operation, which Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland estimated at $275,000, “we’re gonna need to borrow,” he said. The parking fund doesn’t have enough cash on hand to cover this cost, Moreland said.

Instead of shopping around at local lending institutions, Moreland recommended the Selectboard authorize a loan from the utility fund to the parking fund. The Board would set the terms, he said, and it “wouldn’t take that long to pay back.”

Moreland explained that in Fiscal Year 2021, the town will make the final bond payment on the Transportation Center. He noted “we’re in Fiscal [Year] 2019 now.” Once the town pays off the bond, “that would free up about $192,000 each year in the parking fund.” Moreland estimates the parking fund could completely repay the loan in two payments in FY22 and FY23.

Moreland warned the Selectboard that borrowing won’t completely cover the $50,000 annual back-end operation costs. Further funds are needed.

Once the new system is implemented, parking rates will likely go up, and those paying with cash will subsidize the costs of people using modern technology.

Because each credit card, debit card, and smartphone app transaction comes with what the industry calls a “convenience fee,” someone has to cover that. Rather than program the system to add that fee during the parking payment transaction, Moreland asked the Selectboard to consider raising all parking fees.

If the Selectboard approves the town manager staff’s proposed ordinance to raise the price of parking, Main Street parking will go from 75 cents an hour to $1 an hour, and parking in the rest of the town’s streets and lots will go up by five cents an hour.

“And that would be passed on to everybody, even if you’re using a quarter?” asked Selectboard member Brandie Starr.

“Yes,” replied Moreland.

Rates for the two-hour meters were last increased in 2009. Selectboard member Tim Wessel called a five-cent increase “fair.”

Should rates be higher?

Dick DeGray chastised the Selectboard for not raising parking prices even higher. He suggested all parking in all of the town’s lots and on the street should cost $1 an hour. He said their “fear” of increasing parking costs was “asinine,” and noted “nobody will stop coming to Brattleboro” because parking is too expensive.

Nobody from the Selectboard or the attending town manager’s staff supported raising all parking fees to $1 an hour.

Moreland pointed out that not everyone parking downtown is there for leisure: many workers park in the less-expensive, long-term parking lots.

If the Selectboard chooses to raise the parking rates, that will require a change to the town’s ordinances. Executive Secretary Jan Anderson confirmed altering an ordinance would take approximately 90 days between board approval and final implementation.

Moreland noted the time it would take to order and install the equipment is also about 90 days. Any changes to the town’s parking system wouldn’t happen until the winter months.

Some Selectboard members asked about IPS’s reliability, whether it is EMV (chip card) compliant, its warranty on machines, and the rating among other towns that use it.

Elwell told Board members that his staff will include such information in the procurement package they present for approval at the next Selectboard meeting.

Downtown Brattleboro Alliance Director Stephanie Bonin asked why the town can’t deploy the same smartphone app that Keene and Greenfield are using.

IPS’s system, Moreland said, is the easiest and most integrated for reporting data like usage and revenues.

Elwell noted that in his research, towns that wrote their own requests for proposals and didn’t use the national procurement service were, “in many cases, not happy with the results, because they were starting from scratch on a system that’s very complicated.”

The national procurement service, Elwell noted, had successful outcomes, and Brattleboro can expect the same.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #472 (Wednesday, August 15, 2018). This story appeared on page A3.

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