Athol: Downtown Vitality Committee seeks parking meter fee hike

  • Athol Center as seen from Bears Den Road. A fee hike is proposed for parking meters in downtown.

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 1/15/2021 5:10:52 PM
Modified: 1/15/2021 5:10:49 PM

ATHOL — Members of the Downtown Vitality Committee have been informed that the ad hoc Parking Benefits District Task Force will ask Athol’s Selectboard to support an increase in parking meter fees at the board’s meeting on Feb. 16. Committee Chair Mary Holfort, a member of the task force, informed the committee of the plan at its meeting Tuesday night.

Holfort told the committee that task force members met on Monday and discussed the rate hike.

“I think it was a pretty good meeting, and we’re making some progress,” she said. “We’re going to put together information to present to the Selectboard. That’s the first step to getting the rate for the meters changed. I think we’ve settled on 50 cents an hour.”

“Right,” said Athol Planning and Development Director Eric Smith, who also sits on the task force. “Gardner and Greenfield and a few others that we looked at seem to be in that range. It seemed like a reasonable increase, not going too crazy. Everyone’s feeling like 15 cents an hour (the current rate) is more appropriate to the 1970s.”

Holfort asked Smith to clarify whether the rates will be incremental.

“No,” he replied. “We just talked about 50 cents an hour, we didn’t come up with anything incremental. That could always be addressed or looked at, but for now 50 cents an hour would be the rate.”

Holfort also said there would also be a limit of two hours for parking at the meters.

“Most of the meters in town are two-hours,” said Smith. “That’s what the town’s parking rules and regulations state.

“There was a time a few town managers ago when they did that area over by the Y- when they put the meters in there — those are somehow being set for a three-hour limit. That’s kind of in conflict with the bylaw.”

Smith said the recommendation for two hours originates with Athol Police Lt. Ron Cote, who sits on the task force.

“We should be consistent,” Smith continued. “They should all be two hours.”

Smith explained that Cote would work with the parking meter manufacturers and vendors to “come out and basically re-program all these meters; but he wants to do it in one shot. There are costs involved in getting out here to do the work.

“Essentially,” Smith continued, “we’re hoping the Selectmen will vote on the 16th to increase our rate to 50 cents an hour effective July 1. That way, there’s time to get it implemented. And we also hope they’ll vote to make all the meters in town two hours.”

Smith said initial plans call for reprogramming the meters already in place between Town Hall/YMCA area and Exchange Street, rather than purchasing new ones.

He said another role for the task force will be to develop a budget for the Parking Benefits District. Funds from meters could be used to pay for maintenance, enforcement and other costs.

Smth said he’s hopeful he can secure grants to pay to hire a consultant to help develop a Parking Benefits District plan. He said he’d like to secure the services of Scantec, the consulting firm that undertook a downtown parking survey for the town a little over a year ago.

Holfort pointed out that it would be wise for someone — whether the task force or the Downtown Vitality Committee — to undertake some level of public outreach to let people know that they will once again have to feed the meters when parking downtown. In recent years, the level of enforcement has diminished and, therefore, so have revenues from the meters.

In addition, it will need to be determined where revenues from meters and parking tickets will be deposited. Currently, those revenues go into the town’s general fund. Committee members foresee those funds instead going into a Parking Benefits District line item. Just who will oversee the district has yet to be determined.

Those uncertainties, and others, resulted in an article inserted into the warrants of two recent town meetings to establish a Parking Benefits District to be passed over. The town’s Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee felt details regarding budget, oversight and enforcement needed to be spelled out before the creation of a district. As such, the task force was created in hopes of putting together a detailed plan.

The Downtown Vitality Committee Tuesday night did vote to endorse the proposed increase in meter fees, along with the parking limit of two hours, pending discussions with YMCA.

Greg Vine may be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.


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