CONWAY — Town staff Wednesday made their case to the Conway Municipal Budget Committee about why paid parking should be implemented in North Conway Village to offset taxes.
But business owners were quick to respond, saying that the plan is ill thought out.
Town Manager John Eastman, Deputy Town Manager Paul DegliAngeli and Public Works Director Andrew Smith went before the budget committee to explain their idea in greater detail.
The budget committee has the power to amend the operating budget before it goes to voters at deliberative session, who can then amend the budget before it goes to the polls. The budget committee likely make its decision following the Feb. 15 public hearing on the budget.
Budgeteer David Jensen asked how staff arrived at their prediction of 50 percent utilization of village parking spots, and DegliAngeli said parking volume ranges from a high of 100 percent to a low of 25 percent occupancy and so the average is about 75 percent, so the town's 50 percent average is "conservative." DegliAngeli said the town staff has been continually studying parking volume and they will have more data by deliberative session.
"We're not inventing a new wheel," said DegliAngeli adding other communities do paid pad parking.
At the end of presentation, business owners were allowed to speak. First up was Sun Publisher Mark Guerringue said municipalities, like Portsmouth, and Portland, Maine institute paid parking when there's more demand than spaces and that isn't the case in North Conway Village.
"So, Paul says you guys aren't recreating the wheel," said Guerringue." I'm wondering which towns Did you consult with who did it exclusively for revenue."
Smith replied, "I think Conway has as much demand as Portsmouth does."
Later, Guerringue also challenged the 50 percent occupancy average the town staff is predicting by calling it "a guess."
DegliAngeli retorted, "It's not a guess. We gave you numbers. You just don't accept them."
Guerringue said that the town had predicted over $200,000 could be raised from paid parking at rec sites but only $79,000 has been grossed. Guerringue asked how many people in the room had a parking app on their phone and a reporter only saw two people, DegliAngeli and budget committee chair Peter Donohoe, raising their hands.
Budgeteer Stacy Sand said she's looked at the parking charges in about 10 other towns and Conway's $2 per hour would be the highest around.
"You think that's going that amount might affect people's coming to our downtown, that maybe are not residents?" asked Sand.
Eastman didn't think so.
"So in my humble opinion, I don't think that that $2 is going to deter anybody that wants to go there," said Eastman.
Jensen said the paid parking will be an annoyance to people who have come to North Conway before and find out suddenly that they now have to pay for parking; particularly if they waked a distance from their cars.
"It's going to be a bummer," said Jensen.
Smith said that in the first few weeks, the enforcers will probably write a lot of warnings.
Met co-owner Larry Flaherty urged the town to allow a 15 minute grace period for those making quick transactions like buying a cup of coffee.
"Unless we have transactional parking, it's not going to work (and) it's going to be a detriment to my business," he said.
Flaherty also didn't like the idea of his employees walking greater distances in the dark. At a different point in the meeting, Smith said the streets are lit and the sidewalks cleared of snow.
The senior staff seemed more open to the 15 minute grace period than they had been in previous meetings where they said doing so would be difficult to monitor.
At one point in the meeting, senior staff said businesses could validate customers's parking.
Resident Mark Hounsell spoke in favor of paid parking.
"Regardless of how much revenue we collect, property tax payers need all the relief they can get," said Hounsell adding if even if the program only generates a little bit of revenue the budget committee should endorse it.
Marvel said he looked at parking fees said $1.50 seemed to be minimal. He said in some areas Portsmouth charges $5 and Marvel suggested North Conway could charge the same.
"We want to park right in front of Zeb's it's gonna be five bucks," quipped Marvel.
At another point in the meeting, Marvel said most towns that have paid parking also have free parking areas and Smith replied Conway would have free parking at Whitaker Woods. They would use an old police car to get around.
Sand also asked how many parking kiosks would made available for people who don't have smart phones.
"So we budget for three of them at this point," said Smith adding they're $8,000 apiece. "So ideally, the fewer the better if we're trying to make money."
Smith said kiosks could be placed at the corner of Kearsage and Route 16, the south end of Schouler Park and perhaps by TD Bank.
"They've already got ATMs, maybe we throw a parking kiosk there," said Smith.
Sand and Joann Daly of Soyfire Candle questioned the legality of using paid parking to offset taxes. Sand said the revenue from parking must be spent on on the roads in and around North Conway Village.
Smith said the highway budget is about $2.7 million and the money wold go for offsetting costs to that budget.
Daley said she's hearing from shoppers that say they won't pay for parking.
Rob Peterson, who is general manager at Horsefeathers and Deacon Street, said the town is underestimating the number of out of town employees who work in North Conway and they are going to struggle to find parking. What's more, he said the town lacks the cellular infrastructure to make the app work.
Smith said perhaps the town could provide wifi.
Budgeteer Jim LeFebvre asked what the town is prepared to do about "Scofflaws."
Smith said the software tracks who has gotten a warning or tickets before. He said the selectmen have not decided how far they will go to punish someone but options include towing, booting or the "barnacle" which is like a giant suction cup device that goes on the windshield.
Smith said paid parking vendors told him Conway could expect to write 5,000 tickets per year. At $30 apiece, that would generate $150,000.
Conway Scenic Railroad co-owner David Swirk said that money from fines shouldn't be though of as simply as revenue.
"When you speak of potentially having 5000 violations I look at as 5,000 families that probably won't come back to North Conway," said Swirk.
On Dec. 6, selectmen voted to put $242,000 in a proposed $14.3 million operating budget to fund a new paid parking program in North Conway. Residents will vote on the budget at the deliberative session in March and at the polls in April.
If paid parking makes it through the budget process, it could start next spring. The town is looking at paid parking to generate revenue to offset taxes to the tune of just under a $1 million per year and based on 50 percent occupancy.
Paid parking would be operated in North Conway Village, cost $2 per hour and run during business hours seven days a week year-round. Residents could pay $5 to get a pass. North Conway employees who live out of town could park for free in certain lots if their employers spend $20 per employee vehicle.
On Thursday, the Sun asked Eastman if there would be enough room at Loynd Auditorium at Kennett High School for all the voters likely to come out at deliberative session.
"The Loynd Auditorium seats 496 people with an additional 4 handicap seats as well for a total of 500 seats," said Eastman. "I believe this is more than sufficient."