Fort Smith Board asked to ‘use caution’ on parking meters, City Administrator gets raise

by Aric Mitchell (amitchell@talkbusiness.net) 698 views 

Central Business Improvement District (CBID) member Richard Griffin on Tuesday (Jan. 2) urged the Fort Smith Board of Directors to carefully consider its next move on parking meters.

The request was made at Tuesday’s town hall portion of the Board’s regular meeting. Griffin had signed to speak during the meeting portion, but city directors agreed to table the issue until fellow Director André Good could be present for discussion.

Had Good been present, he along with the six other Board members would have decided on a proposal to double said rates from 25 cents per hour to 10 cents per 12 minutes, 25 cents per half-hour, and 50 cents per hour for Garrison Avenue on-street parking. All other on-street parking meter rates, excluding second street, would be 10 cents per 15 minutes, 25 cents per 40 minutes, or 50 cents per 90 minutes. The second street area would be free.

In addition to the meter rate increases, city administration requested increases to parking violations. The new rates would be $10 if delivered by 6 p.m. the day following the violation; $15 if delivered after two days and before five days of violation; $20 if delivered after four days and before 16; and $25 if delivered 15 days after the violation.

Griffin said he did not wish to speak against the proposed meter increases, but he encouraged the Board to wait for input from the soon-to-be-hired Propelling Downtown Forward executive director. Griffin said the director would be “helpful on many issues that are dear to the hearts of downtown and our future growth,” adding the city should be “cautious about major changes downtown until we have whatever benefit we hope there will be to all of us for that person to study those issues.”

Griffin believes the Fort Smith Downtown Business Association and downtown merchants see the parking meters as a “mixed bag,” and suggested the city scrutinize meters that “don’t get much use,” as in less than 85% utilization.

“You could just not have them, but what you’d really like is high use and quick turnover,” Griffin said.

As the Board left it, the proposal Tuesday night will appear on the Jan. 16 agenda unless something changes in the next two weeks.

Should the ordinance pass, it also will include replacement of all parking meters with smart parking meters that are smartphone app-enabled, a $217,000 expense. An automated parking garage gate also would be installed, and the city would hire a third-party firm to clean the downtown location.

“We will also look into implementing the leasing of parking spots to business owners that request it and allowing for up to three hours of parking time to be purchased,” City Administrator Carl Geffken said.

The updated meters would allow parking customers to pay and replenish funds as well as pay fines from an app on their phone. The money to incorporate the upgrades would come from an existing $350,000 in the parking meter fund, and the expense would be replenished over the next three years from new revenues. As it stands, the city loses approximately $35,000 a year on parking. The move would maintain one parking enforcement employee.

Also Tuesday, the Board approved a 2.5% cost of living adjustment (COLA) for Geffken, who currently makes $137,500 per year. With the COLA, Geffken’s salary will increase to $140,937.

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