Harrisburg parking board gets earful from public

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Walk along Harrisburg's Restaurant Row, stop anyone on the street and utter the word “parking,” and without a doubt you will get an opinion.

About 50 residents and business owners concerned about the city's parking changes gathered Thursday morning inside the Crowne Plaza ballroom to listen to the first meeting of the Harrisburg Parking Advisory Board.

The board consists of a representative from each interested party:

- PEDFA: Dave Black, President & CEO Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDEC;

- Dept. of General Services: James Henning, Deputy Secretary for Administration;

- Trimont: John Gass, Director

- Standard Parking (SP+): Chris Sherman, Vice President;

- Harrisburg Parking Authority: Richard Kotz, Executive Director;

- Harrisburg Mayor's Office: Bruce Weber, Director of Finance;

- Harrisburg City Council: Wanda Williams, City Council President;

- Credit Enhancers: Laura Evans, Dauphin County Chief Clerk; and

- Geoffrey Durno, Assured General Municipal.

The board will meet quarterly and will post minutes online at parkharrisburg.com.

During the committee comment period, Bruce Weber motioned the board be expanded by two to include representatives for Harrisburg residents and business owners.

However, a second for Weber's motion was greeted by silence. After some discussion, the topic was tabled for another meeting.

Forming the advisory board was written into the court-approved recovery plan and was initially intended to be a body that gave a transparent look into some major decisions.

Some would describe rate increases and extended metered hours to be a major decision that did not have much transparency.

One man representing St. Patrick's Cathedral said the Saturday evening mass would cost parishioners around $4 to attend. He said that money takes away from donations which help the poor.

Religious leaders in other churches said rate increases would hurt weddings, funerals, volunteer services and events on nights and Saturdays.

Business owners spoke about customers and clients not wanting to meet downtown in fear of getting a $30 fine.

Small business owners, restaurants, and theater groups said the increased rates in garages and looming extended hours at night would not only hurt business, but the employees who work for them.

One resident offered some levity when get got the crowd laughing with this remark:

“First off, I'll make this very short because I'm at a meter right now.”

He followed up laughs with serious remarks to the board.

“You shouldn't charge people to park on Saturday's. That's ridiculous,” he said.

Anne Miller said the parking situation has scared prospective renters and home owners away from the city.

“They don't know where they're going to park,” Miller said. “This is the proverbial straw on the camel's back for these residents.”

Councilwoman Eugenia Smith scolded the board for not accepting Weber's motion to include residents. That move fired up a few in the audience.

“You won't even take a person from the community. You won't even welcome them to the board,” one man said.

Smith said the attitude does not to seem engaging, although the board said they would be.

There are a few takeaways from the meeting that people should pay attention to. Rate increases to 75 cents for 15 minutes at metered spaces and extended parking meter hours from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday have not gone into effect just yet.

Standard Parking vice president Chris Sherman said 10 electronic meters have been installed thus far. He said the weather has slowed the process. Sherman expects the next 25 meters to be installed over the next two weeks.

“As soon as the new meters are installed, that's when the rates will increase, and the extended hours will go in place at that time,” Sherman said.

Rate increases in the city's parking garages went into effect Jan. 1, and fines have increased to $30 with an additional $20 penalty if the ticket is not paid within four days.

Metered spaces will be free on New Year's Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Sherman expects another 88 meters to be installed in Midtown sometime in May.

It appears at this time that nothing will be done to change the rate increases; the higher costs were a part of the recovery plan. Sherman did say Standard Parking is working on several discount or incentive-based programs that would alleviate some of the financial blow for businesses and patrons alike.

Adjustments to hours may be up for discussion.

The one thing the city does have control over are spaces themselves. According to the asset transfer agreement, the city has the power to eliminate and add spaces.

Sherman also said Standard Parking will discuss special permit rates for employees who work downtown.

When it comes to ticketing at broken or frozen meters, Sherman said he wanted to review company policy before going on the record. However, many meter workers said they were instructed to ticket cars parked at “dead” meters.

New meters will use a “pay-by-plate” system, which uses license plate numbers instead of numbered spaces. The problem of finding numbered spaces under ice and snow will come to an end next year.

As abc27 has reported in the past, the new meters will be smartphone friendly. Meters will also use the “extend-by-text” system where you will be able to receive a text message notification when there's 15 minutes left on your meter. Just note, there is a 25 cents charge for each text message. The ParkMobile phone application will also be meter friendly in Harrisburg.

New meters will accept credit and debit cards. The “Easy Key” payment system will become obsolete when the new meters go live.

Standard Parking said it is working on alternative programs, such as accounts with pin numbers, but nothing is definite at this time. The company said they will offer you the value of your “Easy Key” account towards the new meters.

Seven-hundred residential permits have been obtained by Standard Parking since the transition. The parking company said paying new or existing permits and fines can now be paid online at their parkharrisburg.com website, which will soon offer parking availability maps.

The kicker of the Parking Advisory Board is that they have no real power. Even if a measure is passed or agreed upon by the board, they can only suggest changes. There is no guarantee the asset managers will accept the recommendations.

One resident may have best summed up his comments to the board:

“I gotta go feed the meter, so I'll see you later.”

 

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