Parking – Red Herrings, Real Issues, and your money

First of all – happy new year.  How on earth did it get to be 2014 already.

Lots of talk about the City’s parking budget recently.  Just before Christmas, Council approved the first rate increase for downtown parking since 2006, an additional $0.25 per hour.  This was in part just to keep up with inflation in costs, since some costs, such as electricity, have gone up dramatically over that period.  But the bigger issue is that even with this increase the City’s parking budget has about a $600,000 deficit, which if it is not covered by additional revenues, has to be covered by the taxpayer.  This is driving City staff and Council, rightly, to look for a solution.

However, look a little deeper into those numbers.  In 2011, the City’s parking fund generated about $1.3M in revenue, and had $1.2M in costs.  In fact, on an operational level, the City’s parking operations are self-sustaining.  With the rate increase, it will actually be net positive on an operational basis.

The fiscal problem is that the are debt costs for the downtown parkade are also sitting in the parking budget, to the tune of $964,000.   That’s what is causing the parking fund to run at a considerable deficit.

The debt for the Collier Parking garage is 15 year debt, which will be paid off completely in 2024.   At that time, the Parking budget will of course dramatically improve.   So the issue is plugging this hole over the next ten years.  It’s therefore a bit of a red herring to say that the fund is “unsustainable” – the current practice is unsustainable, but the real problem here is a cash flow issue for the next ten years, caused by a single large annual debt payment.   By and large, all other elements of the parking budget are in good shape.

With a daytime rate increase having already been approved, there are some who see the only option for Council to be to extend parking hours into the evening.  There are good reasons for that particular move – for example, why should only daytime customers of downtown businesses have to pay to park, and evening customers get a free ride?  Shouldn’t restaurant or bar patrons be charged just the same as patrons of retail stores or daytime offices?

The counter argument to that one goes like this – there are also a LOT of evening parking users who are coming to the downtown for special events, charitable organizations, et cetera.   Seems harsh to ask a volunteer from Out of the Cold to pay for parking, particularly if it’s for an 8-hour shift.   Also, very few other municipalities charge until 11 at night – Councillor Ward calls it “uncharted territory” and he’s not wrong.  Most charge until 6pm, a few until 8pm.  All of this said, I do agree with Councillor Brassard’s views on this, there is a basic inequity between daytime customers and evening customers right now that makes little sense.   Side note – John is doing great work in the background on this issue, he is meeting with the downtown merchants (BIA) tomorrow, and will chair the Transportation Committee meeting on Tuesday next week where we address this issue.

Anyway – I think there are also some other options for Council and I continue to beat the drum about #1 below!

1.  Charge Visitors for Waterfront Parking – the 2012 study estimated that by giving all Barrie residents a pass for free parking on the waterfront, and just charging out of town visitors, would generate a net of approximately $400,000 in revenue.  I have been in favour of this for some years.  While I would like to see our residents continue to park for free at the waterfront parks that were built with their tax dollars, I think we have hundreds of thousands of visitors per year who would reasonably expect to pay to park, especially given virtually all other municipalities charge for this (Innisfil, Oro, Wasaga Beach, and others).  With all our special events, this is a good opportunity to raise revenue.

2.  Sell parking lots for redevelopment, if it replaces the parking – Parking lots downtown are a great redevelopment opportunity and can raise revenue through sale of land, development charges, and tax revenues.   Developers can be asked to replace all the lost public parking as part of their redevelopment, as is happening with Mady’s Collier Centre project across from City Hall.  I blogged about that previously, click here if you want to read more. This could generate considerable revenue, but it’s hard to count on it because the timing of land sales is difficult to forecast.  It would not be unreasonable, however, to assume this could generate $2-3M over the next 10 years, even with a relatively slow pace of redevelopment.  This would take the 10 year shortfall of about $6m due to the debt and reduce it to $3-4M.

3.  Make some smaller, money-losing lots, seasonal use only.  While overall the parking operation breaks even net of debt, there are some lots that don’t see enough activity to cover the costs of maintaining them.  This may seem an oddity, but think of the snowploughing and lighting costs alone associated with a parking lot.   Some lots could be closed in the winter, especially the smaller ones near the waterfront.  There are probably $50,000 and maybe $100,000 annually in savings from this that are possible without hugely reducing the parking supply.

4.  Get a little more inventive about parking pass sales.  Annual parking revenues from pass sales are about $350,000 per year.  Even a 20% increase in pass sales would bring in another $70,000 per year, although there could be an offsetting loss to some extent as people who pay cash convert to passes.  One approach could be to market parking passes to property owners who do not have enough off-street parking at their downtown properties.

5.  Deal with this for what it is – a cash flow issue.  This may sound strange, but the fact is that the parking fund is sustainable and perhaps this is being made out to be a little bit more of a problem than it is.  Hypothetically, for example, if Council was to take a few of these steps to putting us on a sustainable fiscal path, with land sales making the difference between a small deficit and a small reserve contribution every year until 2024, there public would continue to see good service and we would not need to dramatically drive up rates, paid hours, or expanding paid parking.

At a minimum, however, Council probably needs to take one more major step – either paid waterfront parking for visitors, or evening parking charges, to get us over the cash flow crunch of the next 10 years, and prevent homeowners around the city from having to subsidize downtown parking.

Comments as always are welcome.

About jefflehman
Jeff Lehman is the 46th Mayor of the City of Barrie. The Ward 2 Councillor for the City of Barrie from 2006 to 2010, he was the Chairman of the Finance Committee of Council, chaired the City’s Growth Management Working Group, and created the Historic Neighbourhoods project, a new initiative to protect and revitalize Barrie’s oldest neighbourhoods. Jeff has lived in Barrie for most of his life, having grown up in Allandale and attended Barrie Central Collegiate. Jeff holds a B.A. from Queen’s University, and a Master’s Degree with first class honours from the UK’s prestigious London School of Economics. He was hired to teach at the LSE following his graduation, and lived and worked in London for two years as an academic. Since that time, as an economist, he has worked with cities across Canada to manage redevelopment and invest in their urban infrastructure. In 2005, he established the Growing By Degrees Task Force to assist in expanding university education opportunities in Barrie, and has volunteered his time with many organizations in the City. Jeff lives near Downtown Barrie with his wife, Jennifer, a part-time professor of political science, and their young daughter Cassie, who is already smarter than her father.

Comments

8 Responses to “Parking – Red Herrings, Real Issues, and your money”
  1. Mike says:

    1. I agree with charging visitors to the waterfront. If people don’t want to pay, they can always park somewhere else for free and walk to the waterfront.

    2. When land is very valuable, it makes no sense to use it as a parking lot.

    3. Good idea! Why plow a lot that has little use. Use it to dump the snow.

    I think the parking charges for visitors to the waterfront is reasonable. Charges for parking in the evening reminds me of Toronto. I was surprised one day when I met some people late in the evening downtown Toronto that I was expected to put money in the meter. Ottawa, according to friends of mine, is not as bad as Toronto. If a major city like Ottawa does not charge late evening parking, than Barrie should not either.

    Mike

  2. Concerned citizen says:

    Using paid parking for revenue has never worked. As the down town has shown, paid parking is the key thing that has actually driven away customers from the down town core. This is a fact. Increasing this willp only further the damage. Also charging visitors for the beach front is a horrible idea. Why should anyone have to pay for the water front where it belongs to the entire country? This water front has already been paid for by the massive amount of tourists that visit here, it’s been paid for already by our property taxes and then some. The reason we have “extra” parking is because the spaces that one has to pay is simply not worth it. That few “extra” cash that you are trying to garner will be quickly lost once people find out that they have to pay for a service that should be free.

    Indeed this is not a parking problem, it is a cash flow problem. Charging for a made up service is not going to solve this, it will exasturbate it.

    Instead figure out where you are spending and cut that. Cut city staff and the BPD who take the largest chunk and have already demonstrated that cuts are needed in that area. It surprises me you would even entertain such a crippling idea that has proven to hurt this city when you claim to be an “economist” there was no reason to move lakeshore back, but you are doing it anyways. That again indicates strongly of a spending issue. You are spending on wants and not needs. Roads are crumbling around Barrie but rather than fixing those you want to mess with an already fine water front and charge for it. That indicates greed and nothing more. It’s easy to solve this issue. Make parking FREE for all to drive the economy up and cut services that are already bloated. That is what is needed and nothing else.

  3. Concerned citizen says:

    Home owners are NOT “subzidising” the parking. The parking has been paid for by our past property tax increase, to which you want to increase yet another 2.2%.

  4. Concerned citizen says:

    Charging for parking for the water front is a terrible idea and one that is short sighted. The water front belongs to the nation and not just the city. Even the federal government has provided funds for our water front. On top of that, who will pay to park at the water front and then go shipping on one of our very expensive “home crafted” festivals. This in fact will drive people away as they seek better and reasonable alternatives while hurting the festival vendor.

    People can park for “free” elsewhere, which means less of a reason to even come to the water front. So where will this leave us? It means you will yet again raise our property taxes to make up for the absolute loss of income this decision will make.

  5. rob says:

    I think charging for parking on the waterfront is a terrible idea! Why charge tourists who bring money to Barrie, for infrastructure improvements that benefit the residents and not the tourists. Nobody likes tax increases but you can’t have your cake and eat it too.
    You have spent hundreds of thousands or dollars to ‘improve’ Lakeshore Drive, for what, it is now a nightmare to get our of the area ( Canada Day fireworks display) now that there are lights at Tiffen which require a left turn to continue along to Minets Point road. The road re-construction has only created more traffic congestion.
    This may be ‘old news’ but while I’m at it I may as well bring it up; That is the matter of the ‘new and improved’ bathrooms at Centennial beach. I don’t know how many millions of dollars it cost to build, and it may be ‘prettier’ than the old one, but why only one toilet in the mens’ washroom, while the second side is often closed. Why replace the old facility which had 4 stalls and changing a changing area, with the second side often open for use during peak times, with a fancy new facility with one stall and no change area. Doesn’t seem to be good use of taxpayers dollars.

  6. Mariane Cancilla says:

    You state “Seems harsh to ask a volunteer from Out of the Cold to pay for parking, particularly if it’s for an 8-hour shift.”

    Daytime volunteers working in the downtown area in the daytime pay for parking, at least those working at the Barrie Public Library do.

    Current parking policies are not equitable.

  7. Kathie says:

    If I’m willing to volunteer The Barrie Public Library and give my free time….why am I required to pay parking ? So…it costs me money to volunteer!!!! That’s just wrong!

  8. Kathie says:

    I think it’s outrageous to charge volunteers to volunteer! I volunteer at the library and must pay for the privilege. You encourage people to volunteer and give back to the community but it costs me to do so. So….why would I volunteer when I have to pay for parking when I do? Ridiculous!

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