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Council should let mayor set parking rates

Council should let mayor set parking rates

One person may make for more accountability

Parking fees in downtown Schenectady have always been controversial, and the current plan to put the mayor in charge of setting fees hasn’t failed to raise the hackles of at least some people who insist that the mayor shouldn’t wield so much power. Please.

We don’t enjoy shelling out for parking — whether it’s 25 cents for 15 minutes, $1 for an hour, or $5 or $10 for an evening event — any more than anyone else. But people who long for the days when parking in downtown Schenectady was free need to realize we’re in the 21st century: Real estate like the lot the city’s parking garage sits on is too valuable to give away, street meters protect that investment by preventing freeloading, and administering a fair parking program (one that keeps workers from taking up prime commercial-zone spaces all day) costs money.

Charging motorists is a way to cover the costs (think user fee) and/or raise money from people who avail themselves of the service, including from nonresidents who don’t pay city taxes.

Now that the city in the process of modernizing its parking meter system with the installation of voucher kiosks, the idea of ceding rate-setting authority to the mayor or his designee — instead of the City Council — makes some sense. It allows for easy flexibility when it comes to adjusting rates for demand, where requiring council approval would be too cumbersome.

With the mayor solely responsible, people will certainly know whom to complain to if they think rates are unreasonable. And with that threat constantly hanging over his head, how likely would the mayor be to abuse his authority?

Indeed, Mayor Gary McCarthy says he doesn’t anticipate raising rates beyond the current $1-an-hour downtown benchmark, or using the system as a way to generate income for the city. It’s true that some additional revenue will be realized as people will no longer be able to take advantage of unused time left in meters by departed motorists. But if that’s the extent of it, motorists really shouldn’t do much complaining. And if it’s not, they’ll certainly know who to blame.

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