February 3, 2005

Council Debates Parking Meter Rate Hikes

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Several members of the Common Council expressed their disapproval last night at the Department of Public Works’ decision to raise parking meter rates across Ithaca. Although the council did not officially decide on any course of action, most council members who spoke about the issue were against the DPW’s decision and said they wished to talk with the department about the price increase.

The new charges raise meter prices from 50 cents per hour to $1.25 in Collegetown and $1.00 in other parts of the city.

Chuck Cooley, owner of Classic Optical and spokesperson for the College Town Merchants Association, spoke in front of the council and specifically addressed the new prices in Collegetown.

“We understand the need for a raise in parking rate increases throughout the city. We understand that there’s a budget shortfall, and we understand that there’s money that must be recovered through those plans. We also understand, or believe, that it’s unfairly placed on Collegetown,” Cooley said.

Cooley said that he is not asking that rates stay at the old 50 cents per hour, but rather that they be increased evenly throughout the city. He added that he felt that the price increases would hurt Collegetown’s economy and ultimately be harmful for everyone.

Although the whole city is affected by the price increases, much of the discussion centered around Collegetown, where council members expressed their concerns for students and non-students alike. Mary Tomlan (D-3rd Ward), whose district borders Collegetown, said that parking meters were originally meant for short term parking, with garages intended to provide long term spots, but that in Collegetown there is not enough garage space to fill the supply. Because of this, many Collegetown employees cannot obtain parking permits and must park on the street.

“I certainly feel for the employees in Collegetown, many of whom are not making huge salaries. And there are indeed many people who are not just walk-in students, but who indeed come from outside the city,” Tomlan said.

But Maria Coles (D-1st Ward) said she trusts the DPW’s decision, noting that “a subcommittee of the Department of Public works was set up to study the issue of parking rates in the garages and parking meters.”

“It is my understanding that the subcommittee that worked on this problem did its job as well as it could possibly do it,” Coles said.

Council members also said that they were displeased with the way that the DPW and Common Council current work in relation to eachother. Several members said that they were not fully aware ahead of time of what the rate increases would be, and they were concerned that the Council had not been involved enough in the decision making process.

“[The price increase] managed to evade the peripheral vision of the Collegetown delegation,” said Michael Taylor ’05 (D-4th Ward).

Tomlan also said that the issue had escaped her.

She and Taylor both noted Collegetown’s importance to the city. Taylor said that it is the only area in which the parking is self-sufficient, and that this is largely due to the taxes which Collegetown merchants pay, including special taxes which fund the garage on Dryden Ave. Tomlan also said that Collegetown is the most densely populated area of Ithaca and the one that generates the most tax revenue.

The Council does have the option to override the DPW’s decision, but Michelle Berry (D-2nd Ward) said that in the past this has caused tensions between the DPW and Common Council.

“As the chair of budget and HR, and looking at that structure — if I’m truly the chair of the budget committee but I have no say about the parking rates going up … I think that’s a problem,” she said.

But Pamela Mackesey (D-1st Ward) disagreed that this should not deter them from making a decision if they feel it is right.

“We do have control over the board of public works. Anything they pass, we have the ability to overturn,” Mackesey said. “We always have the ability to overturn their decisions, and perhaps that’s what we should do here,” she added.

Mayor Carolyn K. Peterson, however, said that she felt that the lines of communication between the Council and the DPW were intact. She stressed that renegotiating the parking rates “is not a simple task.” She said that although the budget does not specifically rely on parking meter rates, they were used in determining the city’s revenues and that changing them would therefore require re-examining the budget.

Peterson said that the budget was a complex issue and added that it would continue to be a consideration into the future.

“I do want to also note: We talk about examining the rates for ’06… they’re not going to go down. ’06 has a huge shortfall [in its budget],” Peterson said.

Archived article by Yuval Shavit
Sun Staff Writer