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Back to the Drawing Board: Discussions About Metered Parking In Downtown Boone Swerves To Pay Stations

By Jesse Wood

July 9 2013. The Boone Town Council entered a special meeting Tuesday to discuss the implementation of metered parking throughout downtown Boone by Sept. 1. 

While discussions began along those lines, the focus of the meeting swerved to pay stations after Steve McLaurin of McLaurin Parking, which manages downtown parking services for the town, touted the benefits of pay stations. 

McLaurin acknowledged the “11th hour,” but strongly recommended the town consider pay stations, which he said provided excellent reporting services that would show turnover rates, occupancy rates and revenue each parking space receives. He noted the ease of programmability of the stations and the “customer-friendly” acceptance of credit cards.

“I don’t sell pay stations,” McLaurin assured the Boone Town Council.

A gentleman feeds a meter that was part of a trial installation of 20 meters along a block of King Street in front of Capone's Pizza. Photo by Ken Ketchie
A gentleman feeds a meter that was part of a trial installation of 20 meters along a block of King Street in front of Capone’s Pizza. Photo by Ken Ketchie

He added, though, that 24 pay stations throughout downtown Boone would cost in the range of $300,000. He said that the known lifespan of pay stations is eight to nine years, which is about as long as pay stations have been around and is considerably less than meters. Alluding to Boone’s tight budget, McLaurin also said that his company would be willing to purchase all of the pay stations and work out an arrangement for the town to pay McLaurin Parking back within three years if the town were to choose that route. 

In previous budget meetings, staff and the Boone Town Council had initially settled on 88 dual-head meters, 25 single meters and a pay station at the North Depot parking lot, which was estimated to cost nearly $90,000 – all of which would be in addition to the current meters on Queen Street, Hamby Alley and the block of King Street in front of Capone’s Pizza.

Before McLaurin talked about pay stations and other stakeholders dove into the discussion, Town Manager Greg Young began Tuesday night’s meeting by saying that his impression of the purpose of this meeting was to figure out the “when and how” of implementing the meters by Sept. 1, which would be before the majority of students settled into town, causing less “disruption,” and early enough in the budget cycle for the town to start recouping revenue from the meters.

Speaking for the Downtown Boone Development Association, Virginia Falck, downtown Boone coordinator, said that the DBDA, at its June 18 meeting, mentioned that it would like to see, for example, parking on King Street cost 50 cents every 20 minutes for a charge of $1.50 per hour and parking on Queen Street cost 50 cents per hour. She said the DBDA would like to see higher turnover rates on King Street and that people could park on Queen Street for longer for less money. Also, she noted that a universal sign system that was less confusing than the current signage was cited as a key factor by the DBDA.

Falck also noted that the DBDA would like to maintain current hourly limits, where weekday limits are one-hour; Saturdays are two hours; and Sundays feature no parking enforcement. This would require going back and feeding the meter at the end of hourly limits to stay longer. 

“I have spoken with several other small Main Street towns that have parking meters,” Falck said before the discussion turned to pay stations. “They say people don’t love [the meters], but understand them. It’s the best system for their towns.”

After McLaurin noted favoring the pay-station system and after members of the Boone Town Council seemed intrigued about the benefits of using the newer technology instead of an old-fashioned meter system, Dempsey Wilcox, president of the DBDA, said that the downtown organization favored pay stations but was “sensitive to the town’s financial status.”

“That’s why we didn’t suggest the more expensive [pay stations],” Wilcox said. “We were trying to save you guys money.”

Council Member Lynne Mason reiterated her preference for a tiered-fee structure, whereby parking costs more closer to the heart of downtown Boone, and “incentivized long-term parking” to prevent ASU students from gobbling up the spaces to go to class.

McLaurin added that council members could look at the parking rate as a “tool in the toolbox,” and the method of increasing the rate substantially after three hours of parking to deter people from “camping out,” as one council member said, was mentioned.

McLaurin noted that the Sept. 1 deadline would be tight to install pay stations fully across downtown Boone. He said that an incremental placement of stations would probably be the only route possible because of the short timeframe.

This morning, Young said that the town had budgeted $151,000 for McLaurin Parking services for fiscal year 2013-14. He added that was in addition to $15,000 for ASU football game day services. This is roughly the amount the Town of Boone paid McLaurin last year, Young said.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, McLaurin said that he didn’t foresee any extra labor costs by switching over to pay stations. If nothing else, he said adding two pay stations at the lot beside Town Hall would pay for itself by eliminating the need for an attendant to oversee the parking lot.

Mayor Pro-Tem Jamie Leigh said, “I need to see some numbers. This was not in my head when I came here tonight.”

She added that this may be a good long-term solution, “but we still have to make the short term work.”

Council members directed town staff and McLaurin to gather more information as to the “turn-key” costs of pay stations compared to meters; cyber-security concerns with the electronic pay stations; and a full analysis weighing the pros and cons of meters versus pay stations.

Since the discussions were to continue with a possible vote at next Tuesday’s Boone Town Council meeting, the council requested this new information be available by Friday to peruse a few days before next week’s meeting. Also, Falck was directed to inform the DBDA, which meets later this week, of the town’s consideration of pay stations.