YOUNGSTOWN Free parking fizzles over funds, abuse
Workers, not visitors, are filling free spots early in the morning, the mayor said.
By ROGER G. SMITH
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Time's up for free on-street parking downtown after nearly two years.
Free two-hour parking isn't working on any level, city officials say, and council is likely to return to meters soon.
There are two prime reasons.
First, a city laying off workers and facing a roughly $2.5 million deficit needs whatever money it can find, said Mayor George M. McKelvey.
Downtown parking meters generate about $70,000 a year.
"We have to capture revenue wherever we can," he said.
Who's parking there
Second, the approach isn't meeting the goal, which was to free parking spaces for visitors to downtown.
Instead, downtown workers are taking advantage of the free spots, said Artis Gillam Sr., D-1st. His ward includes the downtown, and he's chairman of council's parking committee.
Workers take the spaces in the morning and move their cars every couple of hours, he said. Enforcement isn't working, Gillam said, although he doesn't know why. Handheld computers are supposed to track license plates and generate tickets once a car uses up its two hours a day.
Gillam will suggest to the parking committee Wednesday night that plastic bags be pulled off the meters. He expects legislation to restore metered parking to be ready for next week's council session.
Paper, and later plastic, bags covered parking meters in November 2000. Drivers exceeding the two-hour-per-day limit were issued warnings. Ticketing started in March 2001.
The free spots are filled by 8 a.m., well before most businesses and offices open to visitors, McKelvey said. That means workers -- not visitors -- soak up the spots, he said.
"That's the best indication that free parking was being abused," McKelvey said.
Initially, downtown businesses embraced the move to free parking, he said. Over the long term, however, abuse became more prevalent than the benefits, he said.
Free on-street parking could return after the city's finances recover and an adequate monitoring system can be found that will ensure spots for downtown visitors, McKelvey said.