Brattleboro raises parking rates, will still accept cash

Selectboard also votes to charge for parking on Sundays in a series of decisions designed to bring the town parking fund to solvency

BRATTLEBORO-Selectboard members have decided to raise parking rates to achieve full recovery for the town parking fund and cover capital needs.

The board voted on June 18 to raise the rates and add a charge for Sunday parking.

Board members Peter Case, Daniel Quipp, Elizabeth McLoughlin, and Richard Davis voted to adopt the plan; Franz Reichsman abstained.

Expenses for fiscal year 2025 are anticipated to be $1,015,866, and a budget had to be determined by July 1.

Ultimately, the board voted to raise short-term rates from $1 to $1.50, charge for parking seven days a week rather than six, raise long-term rates from 40 cents per hour to 55 cents per hour, raise parking permits from $400 annually to $675, and raise expired meter citations from $10 to $15.

This is expected to bring in $926,007 in revenue the first year and offer full-cost recovery in the second year, said Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland.

"Nobody here is really in love with raising these rates, but I think we need to be responsible to this fund," said Board Chair Daniel Quipp.

"I think there's a lot of good compromising elements […]," said board member Elizabeth McLoughlin. "I think it's a very reasonable compromise, and I think it's a very significant savings to the employees in town."

McLoughlin added: "And I want to remind people that this is a user fee, and we want to make sure people pay for parking so taxpayers don't pay for parking."

"I know you're not crazy about raising rates," said resident and former longtime board member Dick DeGray. "But […] I see a 13.5% school tax coming my way. I don't want to pay for parking downtown."

Finance Chair Oscar Heller said he was glad for the board's commitment to the full recovery option, but also wanted them to be "mindful" that adding Sunday parking would remove a benefit for someone who may work that day and could park for free.

"Someone is losing something, but I think it's still worth it," Heller said.

Board member Peter Case said he expects the town to be "clear and concise" with the public about what's happening "so nobody gets caught blindsided."

"This is a big change, going to a Sunday day of parking," Quipp said. "None of this stuff has a benefit to everybody. There will be people that things will get a little bit harder for."

But, he continued, "I think we have a responsibility to treat this fund as an entity that pays for itself.

"I think [the chosen option] is reasonable, we'll give it a try, and this board will get an opportunity in a year's time to revisit and see if we did the right thing or not - and the community will tell us as well."

Cashless or not?

Moreland cited a concern for the safety of staff members carrying large buckets of coins as part of the rationale for advocating for a cashless system that would make use of debit and credit cards and a parking app.

Board member Franz Reichsman wondered if going cashless could allow reducing the number of parking enforcement employees from five to four, creating a savings that could offset rate hikes, but other board members weren't interested in that.

The board previously decided to change 147 of the town's 150 parking meters for nine kiosks.

"We want a system that's easy for people to pay for parking," Quipp said. "I don't think that we should be rushing to move to a system that eliminates cash."

And, he pointed out that, "quite frankly, nobody's going to love this rate increase."

"Very few people care about whether we're really funding this enterprise fund adequately. Most people will care about, 'Hey, my parking went up.' Their water rates went up, their tax bill went up," Quipp said.

"You know, it's a tough time for many people in our community, and I have many emails and phone calls from people saying, 'Please don't eliminate cash from our system,' and I don't see a good argument for us doing that.

"I think we can do the people a solid and say you can still pay with quarters, nickels, dimes, what have you, for now and, if the board down the road wants to consider moving to a cashless system, fine, but I'm not in favor."

Case, the proprietor of Burrows Sports, said he's impacted by credit cards at his shop, taking in thousands without any cash coming in.

"I guess either way we go is OK with me," he said, adding he likes having a cash option but sees a long term when "cash is not king anymore."

"We shouldn't get too far afield from the fact that we are literally nickeling and diming the public," McLoughlin said. "To not change this at this time would be a benefit to the public."

All of the options reviewed, including the one chosen, will require amending the current parking ordinance, which will take three months, said Moreland.

The board voted unanimously to allow cash and other payment options and for rates to be reviewed and adjusted annually moving forward.

A first reading of the new ordinance will be held at an upcoming meeting. A second reading is required before adoption.

DeGray also advocated for the cash option with a review in a year.

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

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