The Brattleboro Selectboard has decided to remove downtown parking meters, which have proven difficult to maintain on top of being disliked by users.
Tim Wessel/Courtesy photo/Commons file
The Brattleboro Selectboard has decided to remove downtown parking meters, which have proven difficult to maintain on top of being disliked by users.

Brattleboro plans move to meterless parking

Selectboard still needs to decide whether to raise parking fees and fines and to set the FY25 parking fund budget

BRATTLEBORO-Changes about how folks pay for parking downtown are in the works after the Selectboard agreed on June 4 to transition to an all-kiosk, pay-by-plate system.

"This is a significant body of work; it's really important," said Selectboard chair Daniel Quipp of the recommendations presented by Assistant Town Administrator Patrick Moreland, which followed a May 29 staff review of the fiscal year 2025 parking fund budget.

Moreland said the total parking system improvement budget - including the removal of meters, installation of new kiosks, and retrofitting of existing kiosks - is estimated to cost $142,862.

To help implement the changes, the Selectboard voted to accept a Vermont Downtown Program grant totaling $114,289.48, which is expected to cover 80% of the work.

The town will pay the remaining 20%, estimated at $28,572, from the parking fund.

"We don't think this will take a tremendous amount of time," Moreland said of kiosk installation and retrofitting. "We're hoping we can get all that done before winter. […] The sooner we get started, the sooner we'll get it done."

"Those parking meters are like the worst thing we ever did, so I'm all in for the kiosk thing," said resident Kate O'Connor, who served on the board when the meters were installed.

Recommended improvements

Moreland outlined a number of reasons to eliminate and remove the roughly 150 parking meters downtown and replace them with a series of kiosks, including the fact that the meters are "ugly," obstruct things, are of varied heights, and break easily - "more quickly than we can repair them," he said. They also present difficulties for snow removal and user access in snowy conditions.

Tangential to a transition to kiosks, staff members also recommend changing from a pay-by-display system, which gives users tickets to place on their dashboards, to a pay-by-plate system. That allows people to park their cars, pay at the kiosks, and then go about their business without having to return to their vehicles.

Existing kiosks will be reconfigured to support pay-by-plate as well.

Staff also recommends moving toward a cashless system, although that is still under deliberation.

"We think we're getting to a point where just about everybody has a smart phone or a debit or credit card," Moreland said, which could allow for parking enforcement across a broader area of town by eliminating the need to collect cash from meters.

"It's also sort of an employee safety issue," he added, noting that carrying heavy buckets of quarters could cause injury, and carrying cash that way could make those collecting it targets for theft.

"I know the overall thought of going to a cashless system has got everybody all aflutter, but I can't remember the last time I actually put a physical quarter in a physical meter, and I think you're correct in assuming this is the way it's going to go," said Selectboard member Peter "Fish" Case in support of moving to a cashless system.

Possible parking models

Although the parking fund was established with the intention of standing on its own, said Moreland, it has not since at least fiscal year 2019.

Noting that the town has no obligation to regulate or charge for parking at all, he said one model to consider is unregulated parking.

That would winnow expenses but provide no revenue, and would not remove all costs, such as snow removal from parking lots, and heat, electricity, and custodial staff for lighting in and around the Transportation Center.

Moreland estimated these costs to be about $550,000 annually - and nearly double the tax rate.

Board members swiftly nixed an unregulated system.

Other models under consideration are partial- or full-cost recovery.

"We have been operating with a partial recovery style even though the system has been set up as a full-cost recovery," Moreland said.

Current rate system

Also still to be decided are any rate changes.

Brattleboro's parking system is currently divided into short-term and long-term parking.

Short-term is generally set up to support retail activity, so shoppers can park close to their destinations, Moreland said.

Long-term parking is intended to support people coming downtown for work and staying for an extended period of time.

Current short-term rates range from $0.70 to $1 per hour. Long-term rates are $0.40 per hour.

The report recommends raising long-term rates from $0.40 to $0.50 per hour and short-term rates to $2 per hour.

The town issues parking permits for long-term lots only. Permits provide significant savings for regular users, but permit costs have not gone up in at least 13 years, said Moreland.

The report recommends recalibrating the discount of permitted parking, from a 56% savings to a 40% savings.

Case, who owns Burrows Sports on Main Street, said he hears plenty of complaints about the downtown. Having "a planned solution that we can roll out" has yet to be done by the board, he said.

"And then to say, in turn, 'While we're not addressing these problems, we're going to double the parking rates.' It's a nonstarter for me," Case said, adding that the potential rate hike impact needs full examination.

"I think there's a few different ways we can look at this. […] The people who park on our main street, use our Harmony lot, our service lots, should not be paying the brunt of using the retail stores that are downtown."

Quipp said he is not in favor of increasing the short-term parking rate, as did other board members.

The Selectboard has two weeks to adopt a parking budget for FY25.

Capital needs

Moreland explained that Brattleboro has not had a capital parking plan "for quite some time," largely because there wasn't much money to spend on it. Problems during the pandemic exacerbated issues, causing the system, he said, to now be "in distress."

"We need to start investing in our infrastructure to a greater degree," he said.

The proffered 10-year plan pinpoints $170,000 required to immediately address urgent repairs at the Transportation Center, notably the stairwells.

It would also provide the needed 20% state grant match; allow for resurfacing all parking lots over 10 years, starting with most degraded; and position the town to better address issues at the Transportation Center. Plus, it would provide for regular kiosk replacement.

Two different budgets were offered. Both include $1,015,866 in expenses.

In one budget, the revenue side offers partial-cost recovery of $654,500, based on current rates, making for a planned $361,000 deficit. The second budget scenario offers revenue of $1,029,500 with the same expense, for a planned surplus of about $13,000.

"Your answer, Patrick, that we have these ongoing capital projects that need to be done, and then the annual maintenance program that you've outlined gets us to, again, our Selectboard goal to have a fully functioning Transportation Center used as a parking garage, and that's where we want to be," said Selectboard member Elizabeth McLoughlin.

She added that she is "fully in favor of this budget getting us there, and what this should lead to, I'm assuming, is that these capital improvements […] and the future maintenance will bring us to […] a position where we'd be able to rent the downstairs space as well, so I'm all in favor of the fully funded, let's-get-back-to-normal parking garage issue."

"It's going to be difficult, but it's not all that complicated," Moreland said of achieving the changes, the combination of which "would help to right the system and allow us to operate a parking utility at a full-cost recovery approach."

This News item by Virginia Ray was written for The Commons.

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