The City Council may spend $130,000 on 20 new parking meters, as well as $12,000 a year just to operate them. The meters would each cover 10 to 15 spaces.
But Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo expressed deep reservations at Monday’s committee meeting.
“I’m in support of the meters, but I also think it’s a big chunk to bite off,” she said, worrying that the city might not want to commit an additional $12,000 to next year’s budget.
City Engineer Chris Wallin argued that the city would see a 40 percent increase in revenue with the new meters, because unused minutes would not be available for the next car. Every driver would have to pay full price for their space, and no one would benefit from a broken meter.
He said he felt he had also picked the best “strategic” locations for maximizing revenue: downtown State Street, Union Street and Clinton Street.
City officials told the council that the meters would pay for themselves within two years.
Councilwoman Denise Brucker said she was persuaded that 19 meters spread through the downtown would show the council whether the investment was worth it. (The 20th meter would be used for parts.)
If revenue increases as projected, Wallin wants to replace hundreds more of the old-style meters with the new ones.
Perazzo suggested starting with just five meters — at a yearly operational cost of $3,100.
“My feeling is we’d be wiser to start smaller,” she said.
But no one agreed with her, and she finally gave in.
“That being said, if my colleagues are confident, I’m not going to hold it up,” she said.
The council approved the purchase in committee. The final vote will be next Monday at 7 p.m. at City Hall.
The new meters would accept credit cards as well as coins and report to parking attendants when they needed to be emptied or fixed. Like many other cities, there would be one meter for every 10 to 15 parking spots, and each driver would receive a printed receipt to display on their dash.
The 19 meters would replace 147 old-style meters. The system would be more efficient, freeing up parking attendants to spend more of their time writing tickets, rather than emptying meters.
It would also prevent the most common argument against parking tickets: the receipt would show the exact time that the meter expired, preventing drivers from wrongly arguing that they were just a minute late returning to their car.
The receipt would help parking attendants target their enforcement, too. They wouldn’t write a ticket until the driver was more than a couple of minutes late, they told the council.
Drivers would get some other benefits. Their ticket would be good for any other spot monitored by the new meters, so they could drive from location to location without spending more money.
“You can stop at Bombers, and then drive to Aperitivo, and your ticket is still good,” Wallin said. “You take your minutes with you.”
The meters would run on solar power, using a basic black-and-white LED screen that would cost $200 or less to replace if it was broken, Wallin said. He rejected other proposals because the meters included expensive equipment that could be easily vandalized.
The proposed meters would also be coated with an anti-graffiti substance, making it easy to wash off spray paint, he said.
And there would be far less chance of someone stealing the money. Parking attendants would be given keys to remove the safe inside the meter and replace it with an empty safe, but only the Finance Department would have the key to open the safe.
Wallin said the meters would be a significant improvement over the current ones.
If the City Council ever wanted to change the parking rates, it could do so with one phone call and a $100 fee. Currently, many of the city’s meters can’t be changed at all, and the rest can only be recalibrated by hand.
“This is a calculator, whereas a parking meter is a rock,” Wallin said. “This is a different tool.”