Fort Smith Board doubles parking meter rates, joins Arkansas Municipal Legal Defense Fund

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 731 views 

The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved an increase in parking meter rates at Tuesday night’s (Jan. 16) meeting, moving from the 25-cent-per-hour rate of the last 32 years to the equivalent of 50 cents, increasing parking penalties by $5, and presenting visitors with more pricing options.

For example, guests of the downtown area can now have the option of paying in 12-minute increments (10 cents per) or 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 will be free.

As violations go, the new rates will 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.

Tuesday night’s passage also will require the installation of “smart” parking meters that are smartphone app-enabled. The city estimates installation and setup of the new meters to cost $217,000. Additionally, an automated parking garage gate also will be installed, and the city will 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,” said Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken.

The updated meters will 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 will come from an existing $350,000 in the parking meter fund, and the expense will be replenished over the next three years from new revenues, which the city estimates to be anywhere from $50,000-$70,000 annually. As it stands, the city loses approximately $35,000 a year on parking. The move will maintain one parking enforcement employee.

The vote ended in a 4-3 affirmative with Directors Don Hutchings, Kevin Settle, and George Catsavis dissenting. Settle suggested the city look into extending parking hours instead of raising rates. With the result failing to hit a five-vote majority, the ordinance will need to pass second and third readings before it becomes official, so barring any vote changes, it should go into effect in February.

Also Tuesday night, the city voted 6-1 (Catsavis dissenting) to join the Arkansas Municipal League’s Municipal Legal Defense Fund (MLDF) at an expense of $107,761.25 per year. While the buy-in may seem steep, the city has spent more than $700,000 in the last two years with local law firm Daily & Woods. However, the fund does not displace Daily & Woods from primary representation of the city. Moving forward, the city could transfer cases to the MLDF for the flat fee and an additional $3,000 per case, saving (potentially) hundreds of thousands in legal costs annually. Should the city choose to have Daily & Woods represent a case, it would do so at Daily & Woods’ established rates, but such matters would be handled on a case-by-case basis.

In addition to joining the MLDF, the Board of Directors voted to join the AML’s class action lawsuit against manufacturers and distributors of opioid drugs for what has become a national epidemic. It is estimated Arkansas has experienced $265 million in societal losses due to overprescribing of these drugs.

In 2013, Arkansas had the highest rate of teenagers prescribed opioids of any state in the country.