By Nick Grabbe
Town officials are recommending big increases in parking permit fees, including steep ones for residents who don’t register their vehicles in Amherst.
Parking permits enable downtown residents and employees to use designated spaces on the outskirts of downtown. The system is intended to make more downtown spaces available to shoppers and restaurant patrons.
The Town Council is scheduled to receive a report on the proposals for higher fees at tonight’s meeting and may vote on them.
Town Hall currently sells 236 parking permits for only $25 a year to people who don’t pay excise taxes to the Town because they register their vehicles elsewhere. Under the proposal, those fees would increase sixfold, to $150, next year, and then to $300 the year after that and $400 the following year.
The excise tax revenue lost “is substantial and helps support the overall budget, including capital that goes to maintain roads and sidewalks,” according to a memo from Town Manager Paul Bockelman, Finance Director Sean Mangano and Treasurer/Collector Jennifer LaFountain. Other Massachusetts cities and towns that also host state institutions and have comparable populations collect far more excise tax on vehicles than Amherst does, they pointed out.
“The parking permit program is long overdue for a significant update,” they wrote to the Town Council. “The current version was adopted in 1999 with updates in 2002 and 2005.” Fees were kept low when the program started to encourage residents and employees to participate.
The 79 people who currently do register their vehicles in Amherst and buy parking permits for $25 would see more modest increases. Under the plan, these permits would cost $50 next year and $100 the year after that.
There are also 482 people who buy employee permits for $25 a year. Those fees are due to increase slightly, to $35 next year and $45 the following year. Twenty people reserve parking spots for $1,000 a year and would see $100 increases each of the next two years.
The total amount collected from parking permit fees annually is scheduled to increase from the current $39,925 to $155,350 in three years.
Permit fees go into the Transportation Fund, along with revenues from parking meters and violations. The fund is supposed to pay for all related expenses without drawing on tax revenue, expenses that include salaries for enforcement officers, PVTA surcharges, the Town’s assessment to the Business Improvement District, meter and kiosk maintenance and parking lot improvements.
But the Transportation Fund, which spends about $1.1 million a year, has been running a deficit that is projected to be eliminated with the fee increases. The goal is devote 15 percent of the Fund’s revenues, or $200,000 a year, to capital and debt. “We envision a fund that can be fully self-sustaining, support regular maintenance, and save up for larger capital improvements,” the town officials wrote.
The Town Council will also consider a proposal to implement high-visibility signage in key locations and update the Town’s parking web page to make it more user-friendly.
New signs are needed at each public parking lot to identify hours of operation and other information, and a plan is expected to be ready later this year. Town officials have started work on the web page to make it more helpful “while at the same time de-emphasizing the punitive elements of the parking system,” according to the memo. The web page will include a feedback form so that residents can make comments about the system.
Town officials are not recommending the creation of a dedicated parking management position to coordinate all this.
“At this time, there are insufficient resources to create this position and ensure that it could be funded each year going forward,” according to the memo. “The pandemic has significantly diminished the revenues going into the Transportation Fund and highlighted their volatility.”
4 thoughts on “Parking permit fee increases proposed to Town Council”
I remember when I got my first parking permit downtown and did a double-take when they told me it would cost $25 for the year. I thought it was gonna be $25/month. But in all seriousness, there is a societal cost to bringing a vehicle downtown. They take up space, they pollute, etc… It’s high time that our parking costs better reflect the actual cost. Glad this is happening.
I have many thoughts about the parking permit proposal. We’ll see what feedback the Council members and public give on it. I have some questions as well, including re: the reserved parking spaces on the lower level of the Boltwood garage that are reserved 24/7, with many of them leased annually to private business owners and landlords (I assume).
By my estimated count from last summer, there are 55 spaces on lower level of the garage. 28 are reserved 24/7 and when I’ve been there, often many are not being used. Nelson Nygaard’s downtown parking study mentioned as much and suggested that making those spaces available to the public during certain hours should be considered by the Town. On a related note, the annual leasing arrangements for 20+ of those reserved spaces were first established about two decades ago, when the general public weren’t using those lower level spaces much. One question I have: might there be more willingness by the public to use those spaces now? Perhaps…. the public parking on the lower level is half the price of the parking on the main level. Additionally, I believe that those reserved spaces may contribute to the perception that there is not much public parking available on the lower level. Personally, I have driven down there a few times looking for parking, seen many unused but reserved spaces, and other spaces being occupied, and then decided it wasn’t worth looking for parking there again. (A digital sign indicating how many public parking spaces are available at a given time could help with such a perception.)
On the amherstma.gov web site, I have found little information on the terms of the 24/7 reserved spaces, who uses them, etc. I have seen the spaces mentioned in the annual financial reports on parking revenue, but they are not mentioned on the Town’s main parking web page ( https://www.amherstma.gov/732/Parking-in-Amherst), or related web pages (unless I missed them there). Among my questions are the following:
* Are the people/businesses who rent those spaces currently grandfathered in to continue to rent them each year?
* Have the same people/businesses been renting those spaces for many years?
* Is there currently or has there ever been a waiting list to rent those spaces? If so, are general members of the public eligible to be on the waiting list?
I am not saying that the Town should definitely get rid of the 24/7 reserved spaces on the lower level of the Boltwood, just that I would like to see:
— more public disclosure about who is renting them/using them and what the terms are (for example, are those who rent those spaces currently grandfathered in, in perpetuity if they continue to pay the annual fee?)
— a public conversation about those parking spaces and whether removing them or changing their current terms (for example, should they continue to be reserved 24/7?) could be beneficial to the public in helping address parking shortages at peak times, and to the Town.
Petty grievance, but the only Town employees required to pay for parking are those who work for general government atTTown Hall. Fire, Police, DPW, Bangs Center, school employees get free parking. Town should provide them with one lot to park in. The town counsel has previously stated that a case for gender discrimination can be made, as Town Hall is populated predominantly by women.
It’s about time!
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