More than 20 people stayed at Monday night’s city council meeting late into the night, the big topic of the evening was a proposed new downtown parking model.
Other issues discussed were smoking at downtown events, creating a side account for Public Employees’ Retirement System, and purchasing a dump truck for the City Streets Division.
Joe Wall and Scott Souders presented the new parking model to the council.
The new model would eliminate much of the two-hour parking downtown, and would also change how businesses are held accountable for paying for or providing parking.
With the current model, business licenses and parking permits are self-reported, meaning that the businesses who honestly and correctly file end up paying more than their fair share.
“The current model is so difficult to track, so difficult to audit or prove how many employees you should be reporting on,” Souders said.
“I think we all recognize the current model is broken a bit,” Wall said.
The new model would calculate how many spaces a business is required to provide based on the type of business it is and the square feet. The businesses would pay the fee for parking with their business license every year.
It would require better enforcement of business licensing, as there are around 55 businesses that don’t have licenses at all downtown, according to Souders and Wall.
Under the new plan, about 50% of businesses would ultimately see a decrease in fees associated with parking.
Many people came to voice their concerns with the new model.
“55 nonlicensed businesses just in the downtown area. It seems like if they’re paying their share, if you actually forced the parking permits that are already there, you probably wouldn’t have a shortfall,” said Brian Bicknell, co-owner of A Music Store on Main.
The purpose of the new model is to make parking downtown equitable because it currently brings in about half of what it spends on maintenance and enforcement. Money for maintaining and enforcing parking downtown has been coming from the general fund to supplement the deficit.
“So the city doesn’t even really know where they’re at because they haven’t been enforcing rules that are there. I think the city should probably enforce what’s there before coming up with a plan,” Bicknell continued.
“One problem I had was I didn’t see any in-depth research into what the business people in the downtown area can actually afford to do,” said George Tyson, the other co-owner of the music store.
Tyson passionately expressed that added fees could have a major negative impact on the music store.
Councilman Matt Dodson expressed that the elimination of much of the two-hour parking would be a major step forward, as many people in the past have complained about receiving parking tickets downtown.
“This plan, I think will eliminate a substantial number of the complaints we hear from the customers of businesses, which hopefully equates to more business, more customers, more successful businesses downtown,” he said.
Ultimately, Souders expressed that many good points were brought up by the downtown business owners. He recommended to the council that more research be done on the plan before anything is implemented.
Another issue that was contentious was the proposed ban on smoking and vaping at downtown events.
Some argued that the ban would infringe on the rights of those who wanted to smoke, while others argued that a ban would create a safe environment for all at downtown events.
The ban was ultimately passed on its first reading and will return to the council for a second and final reading at the next meeting on Oct. 21.
All councilors voted for the ban, except for Phil Studenberg, who voted against the ban. Todd Andres was not present.
“This is a really difficult and philosophical issue,” Studenberg said. “It’s a sliding slope and I don’t know where you’re going to draw the line. It’s always going to be efforts to regulate the behavior and from a philosophical standpoint I have a hard time,” he said.
The council unanimously voted to establish a Public Employee Retirement System side account for nearly $2.6 million. The PERS Employer Incentive Fund will match $639,530.85.
Finally, the council unanimously voted to authorize the Department of Administrative Services to purchase a 2021 Freightliner dump truck for a maximum amount of $180,378. The dump truck will be used by the City Streets Division.
The funding will come from the Streets and Capital Equipment Fund.