The town is seeing a drop in parking revenues because of fewer cars and less enforcement.
ADAMS, Mass. — The town is losing money in parking enforcement, prompting the Board of Selectmen to begin troubleshooting a new model to reverse a once-lucrative trend.
Town officials discussed the failed impact of revenue generated from parking enforcement based on low parking rates, enforcement issues based on a lack of staffing and the general decline in activity downtown, according to Town Administrator Jonathan Butler.
On Wednesday, Butler reported the findings of that meeting, during which he said a consensus was reached that the issue is a frustrating one for the town. Data shows that the net value from parking enforcement has steadily declined over the last quarter of a century from what once was a benefit to the town's budget to what is now a detriment.
The amount of coin currency accrued decreased from $11,800 to $7,200 between fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2012, before increasing to $9,400 in fiscal 2013, a total decline of 20 percent. Halfway through this fiscal year, Butler is projecting the numbers to show an uptick, given its current total of $7,600. He said parking is nevertheless not accounting for the totals it used to some 20-30 years ago.
"There was kind of a historical highpoint in the '80s and '90s, where the town would bring in in excess of $20,000 in coins, between $20,000 and $30,000 some years," Butler said. "We're on a steady, downward cycle since then."
The topic of parking revenue was discussed in a recent department head meeting, including Community Development Director Donna Cesan, Town Accountant Mary Beverly, Superintendent of Public Works Thomas Satko and Police Chief Richard Tarsa.
The totals provided by Butler do not account for revenue generated from parking fines, nor do they illustrate the amount of money spent on parking enforcement. Butler identified a lack of staffing as a contributing factor to the decline in parking enforcement, citing a decrease in parking tickets written.
Before layoff in 2007-2008, the town had two more full-time officers and two more full-time dispatchers. Those layoffs have required dispatching duties to be fulfilled by current law enforcement officers on duty, effectively creating a void in parking enforcement.
Without proper parking enforcement, meters won't be fed regularly and revenue generated from these units and subsequent parking fines won't be accrued as a result. Selectman Arthur "Skip" Harrington said the process must be legitimized by law enforcement, though he questioned doing that on a police officer's salary.
"If we're going to keep the meters, we're going to continue to meter the town, or have some sort of system, we need to change the enforcement. No offense to the police, but I don't think it's cost-effective to have a policeman salary out there writing tickets for parking violations," Harrington said.
The selectmen discussed the need for proper enforcement above all, as Butler floated the idea of adding a position sometime in the foreseeable future of a paid parking enforcement officer, or traffic warden.
Pittsfield employs two parking control officers at a rate of $11.48 per hour or approximately $24,000 per year.
Cesan, who was an active part of the workshop on Wednesday, said her office could produce more detailed data on the efficiency of new parking meter models, including placement, if given a period of 30 days.
The discussion on parking meters included upgrading units to newer technologies, positioning them effectively in relation to street parking and sidewalks and increasing the price of parking.
Currently, the cost of filling a parking meter is 25 cents per hour, which Butler speculates has not changed since the 1980s. (North Adams recently installed digital meters at 25 cents an hour, up from a dime.)
Selectman Joseph Nowak said he appreciates the parking meters that are stationed closer to building facades, away from the sidewalk curbs, because it avoids the interference of snow plows, street salts and other town services and weather hazards that may impact durability.
In addition to meters already located on Park and Summer streets, many members of the discussion concurred that the Adams Visitors Center parking lot should be a target area for the town to generate revenue from parking, noting models in other areas of the state that utilize kiosks to charge for parking, rather than standard meters.
"If you have a break-even model ... that's a good model. That's essentially what we're hoping to get to. We don't have a break-even model," Butler said. "These numbers basically say we generate around $10,000-$15,000 a year when you combine coins with some of the tickets written and the cost of that exceeds it."
The discussion of parking is particularly important to town officials, based on grant funding for projects to enhance aesthetics and amenities in downtown Adams, part of a downtown development project adopted in 2003 and most recently funded by a Community Development Block Grant from the state in July.
Cesan has been working with a designer to prepare bid documents for the streetscape project. She said a pre-bid meeting is likely to be held in early March, during which prospective contractors will be on-site in the downtown to go through some of the details of the project. Once a contractor is determined, the town will hold an introductory public meeting.