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Director of Building Maintenance Dennis Guyer doesn't want to devalue parking permits by allowing free parking at the top of the McKay Street Garage.

Traffic Commission Sets Rates on Pittsfield Switch to Metered Parking

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Downtown Pittsfield Inc. President Jesse Cook-Dubin advocated for the top of the McKay Street Garage to be unlimited free parking.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Parking on North Street will cost $1 an hour as of Nov. 1, pending City Council approval, with the implementation of metered parking.
 
The Traffic Commission agreed to the new downtown parking rates on Thursday night.
 
For the downtown core, the rate for the areas of North, South and Depot streets will be $1 per hour. In a secondary zone, which is the municipal lots and garages, the fees will be 50 cents an hour. And in the future, the areas around Berkshire Medical Center will jump to $3 an hour.
 
"We want to encourage people to park for 50 cents in the lots as opposed to parking on North Street," Commissioner of Public Services David Turocy said.
 
The implementation of the kiosk parking meters comes some two years after first presented. The city renovated the McKay Street garage for $6.5 million, with $3.5 million of that coming from the state. The state required the city to take on a parking plan to ensure the structure would be properly maintained. In late 2013, the city contracted consulting firm Nelson Nygaard for $75,000 to perform a study of the parking situation.
 
What the firm found was that less than half of the city-owned parking spots were being utilized. And that utilization was centered in certain areas. The recommendations were to implement metered parking, which replaces the spots that are currently limited by time, with the most in-demand spaces being priced higher.
 
The first 30 minutes in any of the spots would be free in the new plan. Enforcement will start at 8 a.m. and go until 4 in the downtown and be extended to 5 p.m. in the lots. Overall, the new program and fee schedule is eyed to provide revenue to run the system, including maintenance and bonds issued related to parking infrastructure and equipment.
 
Commissioner of Public Utilities Bruce Collingwood, who previously handled the public services as well when the parking plan was first developed, said the annual cost for the program is $1,013,388. The revenue projected is $1,065,923. That yields a projected $52,535 net revenue.
 
"The approach at this point is to basically break even," Collingwood said, adding that there is a need for replacement vehicles for enforcement officers and that new state acts may allow for that revenue to go toward those or go toward buying new meters for the BMC area.
 
The permit system will also remain but the consultants also suggested opening the top floor of the McKay Street garage for free, timeless parking.
 
That last point, however, was removed from the proposal sent to the Traffic Commission and now the City Council by Director of Building Maintenance Denis Guyer and Mayor Linda Tyer. Downtown Pittsfield Inc. went before the commission on Thursday to argue for the free parking at the top of the garage.
 
Downtown Pittsfield Inc. President Jesse Cook-Dubin said the organization is supportive of the plan and served in a key role during the study whereas many business groups would be up in arms about paid parking. Removing the location for free parking means there is nowhere somebody can park for an extended period of time without taking on an additional cost burden.
 
Cook-Dubin added that many of the people coming downtown are not used to paying for parking and without giving a location for free, the merchants could lose customers and it is 11 times more costly to find new customers than it is to keep current ones. 
 
Guyer, however, said he doesn't want to devalue the permits that businesses currently pay for their employees to park in the garage. He said if the top is free there is a chance a firm then tells its employees to park there and stops buying permits. By 8 a.m., all of those spots could be filled by downtown workers and the city would lose revenue in those permits — the only known revenue in projections, he says, for the new parking program.
 
"It doesn't really help the downtown merchants because these spots will be filled," Guyer said. "I am concerned this will be employee parking for those who are now permitholders."
 
Guyer said, maybe, in the future the roof could be opened for the public to park free, once the revenue figures from the meters are more concrete. Or maybe the city could look at another location to offer free parking. But the threat of losing permit fees when so much is unknown revenue-wise is too risky for Guyer.
 
"We have a known revenue number which helps us pay for the overhead for the garage," Guyer said. "It is really the only concrete number that we know." 
 
Cook-Dubin, however, said there are only about a half-dozen cars parked up there. The spots are not covered, it gets icy, and it is a long walk, so it is unlikely companies will abandon the covered and closer spots for their workers and push them off to the top.
 
"The roof is not an enjoyable place to park. It is a long cold walk in the winter," Cook-Dubin said, but it does at least provide that option for customers coming downtown.
 
Guyer said there are about 200 spots on the roof of the garage and it isn't full for a reason. But, permit holders might move up there to save on costs and those visitors, whom the spots are eyed for, would not be buying permits. He hopes with the new metered system, more people who come downtown often will change to permits.
 
"In theory, we hope to fill the top deck with the people who pay $25 a month," Guyer said.
 
The commissioners approved the new fees without McKay's roof being included but said they would send a letter to the mayor requesting a change in the program to allow it. Guyer said he would honor that wish.
 
"If it is that underutilized, I think it is at least something that may calm some of the business community as far as this whole program. I can't give you a vehicle count on a daily basis what it is up there but it is underutilized," said Ward 4 City Councilor Christopher Connell.
 
The Building Maintenance Department, which oversees parking enforcement, recently purchased license plate recognition systems that have improved efficiency in enforcement, which is also eyed to boost revenues.
 
Guyer said the system has dropped the duration to patrol the downtown area to 10 minutes from an hour, when the chalk system was used. That has allowed enforcement officers to chase down larger violations in other areas of the city, such as fire lane violations near the supermarkets.
 
Enforcement costs the city around $179,000 a year, he said, while taking in nearly $250,000. That could increase because of the efficiency with the new system.
 
"We are usually positive in our enforcement division. If we increase by an hour a few days a week, especially if we are going after the bigger violations, we will bring in more money," Guyer said.
 
But, the overall revenues for the new program for metering is still fairly unknown despite a researched projection.
 
Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood said he is still looking into the newer laws changed by the state in the Municipal Modernization Bill to determine if there will be changes to how the revenue goes to the city. Currently, the money from meters would have to go toward the cost of meters and can't be used on enforcement vehicles. But that may change. So Kerwood is reviewing the entire revenue flow so there may be changes in how that money circulates through city coffers in the future.
 
Turocy said the new parking system is eyed to go live on Nov. 1 but exactly how there is still a lot to be determined and work to be done. The department needs City Council approval and the new meters and kiosks, which will be one for every eight to 10 spots, needs to be installed.

Tags: parking,   parking garage,   parking meters,   traffic commission,   

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Soldier On Permanent Women Veterans Housing to Open This Winter

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff

Katie Doherty said she did not think she deserved the dedication but was happy to accept it on behalf of the women who work for Soldier On and the women they serve.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Soldier On supporters and stakeholders toured the Katie Doherty Veterans Village on Friday afternoon that is slated to be move-in ready in early February. 
 
Soldier On knows the importance of having a home and with the near completion of the village for women veterans this sentiment will be accessible to all who have served in the military, not just the men.
 
"I was so compelled by the women I met and so compelled by their stories and what had happened to them," Soldier On consultant Katie Doherty said during a small gathering before the tour. "I thought we could do something to help them and restore them to the positions that they deserve." 
 
Construction began on the 14-unit structure in March 2019 near the existing men's permanent housing community. The units average 457 square feet and have a fully equipped kitchen, an open living space, a bedroom and a full shower.
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