Athol: Two people needed for Parking Benefits District oversight committee

  • Main Street Athol. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 9/20/2021 1:15:36 PM
Modified: 9/20/2021 1:15:35 PM

ATHOL — Formation of the oversight committee for Athol’s Parking Benefits District is just about complete, except for two seats on the panel. At the June 14 Annual Town Meeting, voters approved creation of the Parking Benefits District, including the oversight committee, which will be comprised of representatives of several town boards and two representatives from the general public.

At its meeting on Sept. 14, the Downtown Vitality Committee chose Mary Holtorf to sit on the oversight committee. Athol Planning and Development Director Eric Smith said that Alan Dodge, Marc Morgan, Gary Deo, and Mike Butler had been chosen by the Selectboard, Board of Planning and Community Development, Capital Program Committee, and Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee, respectively, have also been chosen to serve on the panel.

The only missing pieces remain two representatives from the public at large. Smith has said the two resident representatives would preferably come from among downtown property and/or business owners. The article approved by the voters, however, did not stipulate the representatives must come from those two groups.

The oversight committee will make recommendations regarding the expenditure of funds collected from parking meters, as well as parking fines levied in the downtown area. Until acceptance of the Parking Benefits District, those monies were deposited in town coffers.

“Since July 1,” said Smith, “all the monies collected from the meters are now going into a dedicated account. Before, they were going into the general fund.

“And don’t forget, we have the increase that’s been posted on the meters, and we’re starting to replace the meters, too. Soon, there will be one meter for two spaces.”

Earlier this year, the Selectboard voted to increase the cost of parking from 25 cents to 50 cents per hour, bringing Athol into line with most Bay State communities of its size.

“I walk down Main Street every day,” said Dodge, “and I’ve noticed there’s actually time on the meters. So, people are actually putting money in. It’s probably 50-50 now, but for a long time people weren’t bothering to pay.”

“We really need to do some PR and really start the enforcement,” Holtorf added.

“It’s always a chicken and egg situation,” Smith interjected. “There’s, I think, $12,000 budgeted for meter maintenance, and now that we have more money coming in, we should be able to pay for more enforcement, beyond what the town was able to afford previously.”

Smith then discussed the responsibilities of the oversight committee.

“Essentially, we want to have public oversight and we want to have public participation,” he said. “Under state law, there’s a host of things the money (from meters and fines) can be used for; more streets, improvements — for example, we could make improvements to the alley ways — more enforcement.

“They would be making recommendations to the Town Meeting. Town Meeting voters approve the budget, and the committee would make recommendations on how to spend that money. That’s why it’s called an oversight committee, because it makes recommendations that then go through the budget process. I would hope that the powers that be would work with this committee to develop recommendations.”

“Once we get the committee together,” said Holtorf, “then we’ll prioritize some projects.”

Smith also said Stantec, the consulting firm working with the town under a Local Rapid Recovery Planning Grant, would provide some guidance on establishing the district, the boundaries of which have yet to be established.

Anyone interest in sitting on the oversight committee of the Parking Benefits District should send a letter to: Eric Smith, Director of Planning and Community Development, Town of Athol, 584 Main St., Room 29, Athol 01331. Letters of interest may also be sent to planning@townofathol.org. Smith can also be reached at (978) 721-8500, ext. 517.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com


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