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Parking rates in Brattleboro poised to increase

Selectboard gives initial approval, but final decision scheduled for Oct. 16

BRATTLEBORO—The Selectboard recently approved a series of decisions — including a rate increase — bringing members closer to replacing the town’s pay-to-park system.

If all goes as planned, parking will cost more beginning on Feb. 1, 2019, with new meters and kiosks arriving a few weeks prior.

At the Oct. 2 regular board meeting, members unanimously — and without major debate on the actionable decisions — voted to begin the process of changing a town ordinance to raise parking rates, authorize the purchase of the equipment necessary to upgrade the new devices, and approve a loan from the utility fund to the parking fund.

For most of this year, the Selectboard, the town manager’s staff, and members of the public have discussed how to improve parking in the town’s metered spaces and how to pay for its enforcement.

This conversation was inspired by a parking survey contracted by the town and conducted by Desman Design Management.

What shook out of all those meetings was that people want more options for paying for parking, including using debit and credit cards, and, for a few people, smartphone apps, too. Another consensus: parking spaces on Main Street should turn over more often.

Andy Hill, Desman’s director of consulting services, suggested ways to encourage more movement in the town’s most popular spots.

Parking-fees increase proposed

To move forward on expanding the payment options for parking, the town must replace all of the town’s 196 meters and 15 kiosks.

To fund the operating costs for the new machines — mostly credit-card processing fees — the board opted to raise parking rates for all users, including those paying with cash. This decision requires an ordinance change.

The loan from the utility fund to the parking fund is for $260,000 at a 2.5-percent interest rate, payable in five years.

As Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland explained, the board had to create a paper trail for auditors with a two-step process.

First, the Selectboard, which acts as the Water & Sewer Commission, had to meet in that capacity to approve lending the money.

Then, board members, back in their role as the Selectboard, had to accept the loan and its terms, thus authorizing the money to go into the parking fund.

The loan repayment schedule will begin in fiscal year 2022 and the entire amount will be paid in fiscal year 2023, said Moreland, but interest will accrue for the full five years of the loan.

The reason for the delayed payments: in fiscal year 2022, the town will have paid off the bond for the Transportation Center, “so there will be adequate cash flow to repay the loan,” Moreland said.

“We’re confident that won’t present any threat to the utility fund,” said Moreland, noting that the account has a balance of almost $5.5 million.

The loan amount is for $15,000 less than Town Manager staff first anticipated.

“Our initial estimates included a fairly healthy allowance for site preparation at each of the kiosk locations,” said Moreland.

But, after Moreland and Department of Public Works Director Steve Barrett closely examined each kiosk site, they determined it would take less work than anticipated to prepare each location: “just a little bit of electrical work” and some labor to remove the existing equipment, said Moreland.

The Selectboard approved the $200,016.50 contract for the IPS Group, based in San Diego, which will install the meters and kiosks, provide the town with spare parts to maintain the system, and offer technical support once the new parking infrastructure goes online.

New technology

One benefit of using what Moreland referred to as a “smart system” for parking is that, when the new rates go into effect, “we can change rates at all locations at the click of a mouse on a computer,” he said.

With the present setup, anytime the town wants to change parking fees, “we’d have to go meter by meter” to manually make the adjustments, said Moreland, who anticipated the new kiosks and meters will appear in mid-January.

The 15 kiosks need a full replacement, but the new meters require only the heads.

The proposed changes to the parking ordinance:

• Parking on-street and in the Depot Street lot will go from 75 cents per hour to $1 per hour.

• Harmony Lot, currently 60 cents per hour, will cost $1 per hour.

• Preston Lot will go from 60 cents per hour to 70 cents per hour.

• The Municipal Center’s lot will go from 40 cents to 50 cents per hour.

• The Transportation Center’s and Harris Lot’s rates will increase from 30 cents per hour to 40 cents per hour.

• The 30-minute spots on Grove Street, currently costing 30 cents, will increase to 35 cents.

O’Connor described the “method to the madness” as the parking study, which urged the town to incentivize parking in longer-term lots, like High-Grove, by making Main Street parking more expensive, “so those people who want to shop on Main Street can go in and out faster,” she said.

Final vote set for Oct. 16

Although the Selectboard is working toward changing the ordinance to raise the rates, it’s not yet a done deal.

At the Oct. 2 meeting, the board conducted the first reading of the proposed ordinance.

At the next regular Selectboard meeting, on Oct. 16, the board will conduct a second reading and vote whether to adopt the ordinance.

The public is invited to comment during that meeting. The Town Manager’s office will accept public comments prior to the meeting.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #480 (Wednesday, October 10, 2018). This story appeared on page A1.

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