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January 24, 2013

Editorial: Paid parking bonanza falls a little short

Haverhill officials, led by Mayor James Fiorentini, over the past several years sold residents a bill of goods. Now, it is time for the less pleasant half of the bait and switch.

The installation of paid parking kiosks downtown, the mayor said, would open up parking spaces for business and rake in a handsome payment to the city in the process. The hours for paid parking would be limited and the fees would be a modest 50 cents per hour, so as to encourage the patronage of downtown businesses but discourage all-day parking by commuters. A private company would handle the installation and management of the metering system — all but enforcement, to ensure a soft touch and keep Haverhill’s downtown friendly.

The contract with SP Plus Municipal Services looked great. Haverhill would get an up-front payment of $200,000. The city estimated the company’s expenses would be about $200,000 per year, meaning paid parking would have to generate more than $400,000 before the company begins making a profit in any given year.

Revenue between $400,000 and $625,000 would go to the company, not including a $20,000 management fee the city pays the company annually. Revenue above $625,000 in any given year would be split between the city and the company, with the city receiving a 90 percent share.

Everyone would be happy — shoppers, diners, businesses, residents and especially city officials, whose palms were already itching at the prospect of all that new revenue.

Who could have guessed it was all too good to be true?

Less than six months since the start of the paid parking regime and already there are signs of trouble. Revenues are not coming in at the projected rate and if Haverhill does not hit the required benchmarks, the up-front payment will be reduced next year.

Haverhill received an up-front payment from SP Plus Municipal Services based on the paid program generating $250,000 by the end of this month and $400,000 by the end of its first year. Collections so far, however, stand at $175,000 and are projected to only reach $275,000 by the end of the first year, according to the city’s paid parking consultant Jason Schreiber of Nelson/Nygaard.

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