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Parking prices may go up

Sun., June 17, 2007, midnight

The Spokane City Council soon will consider making downtown parking more expensive – partly to help pay off bonds for the River Park Square parking garage.

A proposal endorsed by Mayor Dennis Hession would increase parking meter rates, enforcement hours and parking tickets.

Most street parking prices would rise 25 percent. Meters would have to be plugged 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. – one hour later than current hours. The plan is expected to be considered by the council next month.

Parking charges have not changed since 2000 and prices are below market rate, said Dave Steele, the city’s acting real estate manager who worked on the proposal.

The changes would raise an extra $500,000 to $700,000 a year. That figure includes $110,000 expected from writing more tickets as a result of increasing the city’s meter enforcement crew from six to seven.

“Our plan is to raise parking meter rates to current market levels and use the proceeds to fund some critical needs in a partnership with the downtown business community,” Hession said in a written statement.

Most parking meter money goes to make bond payments the city owes as a result of its settlement with the Cowles Company over the River Park Square parking garage. That settlement severed the formerly public-private ownership of the garage after years of legal wrangling. The Cowles Company also owns The Spokesman-Review.

The new rates were recommended earlier this year by the Matrix Consulting Group in an efficiency study the California firm wrote for the city.

For the last few years the city has collected about $1.8 million annually from parking meters. On top of that, the city brings in about $1.1 million from parking tickets.

Next year bond payments for the garage will increase from $1.8 million to $2.2 million.

Spokane Budget Director Tim Dunivant said the city banked money a couple years back in anticipation of the higher payments, but current meter rates can sustain bond payments only through 2013, he said.

Hession supports using $100,000 of the new money to pay half the cost of an update to a downtown development plan first completed in 2000. The Downtown Spokane Partnership has raised the other half.

Marty Dickinson, president of the partnership, said the plan will examine issues like bike transportation, building height rules and converting one-way streets to two-way.

“We believe that if they’re going to raise the rates, then a portion of the funds should come back into downtown,” Dickinson said.

She added that an update is needed because the city’s core has changed rapidly and many of the goals of the 2000 version have been achieved.

The parking proposal also would give the downtown group 8 percent of revenue above what was raised in 2006 to use for a downtown cleanup team, security and other programs.

Money left after bond payments and downtown spending likely would be used for street maintenance – where most meter money used to go before the River Park Square controversy arose.

Dickinson said many businesses would support heavier parking meter enforcement to cut down on office employees who continually plug meters during the day.

“We want the parking meters to be used for patrons,” Dickinson said. “It would help to discourage those who are abusing the meters.”

Councilman Bob Apple said he’s leaning against the increases.

“If I were to hear that support I would be more inclined, but I need to hear that from the public,” he said.

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