Mayor: Downtown parking not  'paying for itself'

TIM JEAN/Staff photo Some patrons are having trouble understanding the parking signs in downtown Haverhill.

HAVERHILL— When Mayor James Fiorentini first called for paid parking downtown, he promised the proposal would pay for itself and then some.

However, five years later as city councilors call the plan a disaster and drivers complain about being confused, the mayor is telling the City Council that the program is losing money.

While Fiorentini acknowledges parking in the city's business district has “tremendous problems,” he urges the City Council to reconsider the 2018 parking plan he presented because, as he outlined in a Feb. 7 letter to local leaders, parking is “no longer paying for itself” and is costing the city money.

According to Fiorentini, the city's 50-cent per hour metered parking rate is part of the problem.

“Parking is not paying for itself because we don't charge enough. It's that simple,” he said. “We have by far the cheapest rates in the state. If our rates double — which I proposed five years ago — we'd still be the cheapest in the state. We don't charge enough for maintain the meters, enforcement. We have no money to do what I want to do, which is to put in some flowers, fix it up, make it look even better than it is.”

In 2018, the city's consultant, John Burke, reviewed and updated Fiorentini's 2014 suggestions for downtown parking, including doubling the hourly rate to cover meter operational and replacement costs and credit card transaction fees. According to Fiorentini, the parking plan Burke reviewed in Dec. 2018 “has never been acted upon.”

As documented by Burke, 10% of all downtown meter revenue is done by pay-by-phone app called Passport. Since November 2017, parking tickets have been issued by parking management firm LAZ Parking rather than the Police Department. In an effort to increase savings, they are written electronically.

From Jan. 1, 2018 to June 30, 2018, 2,536 total citations were issued with a value of . $61,710, Burke said. Shawn Regan, spokesman for the mayor, said revenue received from parking tickets goes into a general fund distributed by the mayor and City Council at budget time.

Adherence to the free two-hour street parking rule also costs the city money when drivers fail to comply, the study said.

“The level of manual 'chalking' required to accomplish this can be labor intensive and cost prohibitive,” Burke wrote. “It can also result in a perception that enforcement is overly aggressive.”

In that same study, Burke proposed standardizing on- and off-street paid parking hours from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday to “eliminate confusion and increase availability.” Signage would be streamlined to eliminate confusion and better brand municipal lots and parking decks.

Downtown, there are 315 available spaces in the parking garage next to the train station, 587 in city lots and the deck and 159 in the MBTA commuter rail lot.

On Feb. 7, the mayor vetoed the council's ordinance passed Feb. 4. In that ordinance, which Fiorentini submitted, councilors agreed to limit the number of parking permits to no more than five. After conferring with City Solicitor William Cox, it was decided the ordinance would not allow all city councilors to vote on downtown parking matters and Fiorentini vetoed it.

Fiorentini's frustration over the parking situation is palpable.

According to the mayor, he has presented several ideas over the years that have just not been acted upon. Among them are two hours' free parking in the mornings from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and dual-headed meters – with a plan to set aside $40,000 for maintenance.

The trouble lies in the fact that several city councilors must abstain from parking-related votes given conflicts of interest. Others, he said, simply vote against his ideas out of spite.

“My parking commission just kind of gave up,” Fiorentini said. “They said, 'There's no point in proposing anything new, if it's going to get shot down by the council. So we're going to reconstitute the parking commission, try to update that plan from 2018 and do some more parking counts.”

Fiorentini also plans to meet with downtown business owners this week to hear their parking-related pain points, he said.

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