Got Change?

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Could the increase in parking meter rates be penny-wise and pound-foolish or in this case quarter-wise and dollars foolish? That seems to be the consensus among many Old Town merchants.
    
Everyone agreed that our parking rates were too low by comparison to other jurisdictions, said Rich Baier, director, Transportation and Environmental Services. There was no opinion expressed by Council that our rates were too high. 
    
By everyone he meant every member of City Council. He also admitted that meetings were not held with merchants ahead of initiating the new rates on July 1 that now give parkers only nine minutes for a quarter up to 11 minutes less per 25 cents, depending the meters location.
    
It now costs $1.75 to park for one hour, with a maximum time limit of two hours.
    
They didnt even notify us ahead of time that they were going to do this, said Donna McIntyre, manager of Todays Cargo. They just did it. It means our customers have less money to shop.
    
Council said that we had to generate more revenue to make improvements such as signage and installing new parking meters that will accept credit cards, Baier explained. The new meters will be installed in five or six months after Council votes on the matter at their September meeting.
    
Although those new meters may eliminate one aggravation expressed by merchants maintaining an abundant quantity of quarters for their customers it raises an entirely new one: the installation of meters in the 100 and 200 block of King Street, which have been meter-free.
    
I hate the whole situation, said Kate Schlabach, owner of Why Not at 200 King St. The city is not doing anything for the merchants anymore. I dont think anyone on Council has ever been a small business owner.     Schlabach suggested the city erect a kiosk to supply quarters to shoppers.
    
George R. Viteri, owner of Rauls of Old Town, 604 King St., also questioned the need to stimulate turnover of parking spaces. 
     
In any given afternoon there are many open parking spaces. I check every day and count the open spaces that used to be occupied. It seems like many customers are not coming to shop because of these new rates, he said.
    
The need to maintain an excess supply of quarters for customers was echoed by merchants throughout Old Town. I realize the city has to find ways to raise money but this is making customers very mad and thinking twice about shopping in Old Town, said Amanda Lasker, owner of Gossypia. They really need to get those credit card meters installed. 
    
Rachel Hughey, owner, Creative Classics also cited a loss of business. This was particularly the case with Hugheys furniture store that he says requires greater shopping time by customers.
    
Its terrible for business, Hughey said. People are just running out of here. We need a garage in this end of King Street. We cant keep enough quarters on hand.
    
Its not only the increased parking meter rate merchants see as a business deterrent but its also the increased aggressive enforcement, according to Frank Kozuch, owner of Whistle Stop Hobbies.
I have had many customers tell me we dont come to Old Town very often to shop because of the parking rates and the aggressive parking enforcement, he said. 
    
The new meter rates are an outgrowth of a study done a consultant at the request of City Council. It was performed to document existing public parking conditions and develop parking-system recommendations to resolve existing issues and accommodate the continued evolution of Old Town, according to the report.
    
Later, City Manager Jim Hartmann formed and appointed the Old Town Area Parking Study Work Group charged with discussing key findings and recommendations of the study and to subsequently advise city staff.
    
Only one retail merchant was named to the 17-member Study Work Group Martha Wright of the Old Town Pendleton Shop. All others represent hotels, restaurateurs, real estate firms and other businesses.
    
After six months, comparing meter revenues against sales tax income and business license income could prove whether the decision to raise the rates was penny-wise or dollar-foolish.

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