By Nathan Ham
Parking revenue from July 1, 2020, through November 30, 2020, was approximately $32,000 less than it was from the same period in 2019 when the Town of Boone took over its parking enforcement work downtown. However, during this same time, parking violation penalties increased from $87,579.52 in 2019 to $114,504.30 in 2020 from July through November. The cost of a parking ticket in downtown Boone is $12.
According to data provided by the town, Boone had a net revenue of $410,470.97 from July 1, 2019, through November 30, 2019. Over the same period in 2020, the town had a net revenue of $378,003.41.
The majority of parking revenue comes from the parking meters in the downtown area. In the five-month period in 2019, parking meter revenue was $245,842. In 2020, the number dropped slightly to $198,619.
Additional parking revenue sources come from the library lot, Tracy Circle lot, Horn in the West parking, Jones House parking, Queen Street parking, King and Water Street parking, boot fees and parking violation penalties.
“Students primarily purchase the Horn in the West parking spots. When ASU came back in normal session, there was only a slight decline there,” said Amy Davis, the Finance Director for the Town of Boone. “The lots in proximity to downtown, those spots are rented long-term to employees and business owners.”
Lane Moody, the Town of Boone’s Downtown Development Coordinator, says that the town currently has two full-time and four part-time parking enforcement personnel that have been working hard since the town took over its parking enforcement in July of 2019.
“I feel like it has been a really beneficial change. I think that the staff is great and it has gone well. Change is never really that easy, but thankfully, we have a really good staff that has made even the difficult changes pleasurable,” Moody explained.
She said that the parking employees have also been helpful to inform visitors where parking locations are and even going as far out of their way as helping numerous cars that were stuck at parking meters during some of these winter weather storms that have rolled through the High Country recently.
Boone Town Manager John Ward knows that parking will always be a topic of importance in the downtown area.
“Parking is always a challenge. We’re committed to trying to improve that customer service experience and we’re also looking at opportunities to expand parking to further support local residents visiting downtown, students having access as well as tourism, and in support of our downtown businesses. I’m just glad we’ve been as successful as we have in our transition from the contractor to town staff taking over parking,” Ward said.
With the sizable increase in parking violation fines, Ward said that the goal of the parking enforcement staff is more to educate people than to try to find violations.
“We’re trying to work with all the businesses through the TDA (Tourism Development Authority) so they can point people in the right direction. If somebody is coming down for an appointment that may take longer, we’re working to try to educate the businesses, including the lawyers and other service providers, to direct people to our long-term parking. We significantly increased our long-term parking by adding pay stations on Queen Street so people can pay for up to eight hours a day,” said Ward. “What we’re doing is we’re trying to adjust the system so that we actually provide a better parking experience that doesn’t result in any type of violations. What we can’t help is, we can’t tell the user. So, when you have people pull in, in order to avoid the permit process on campus for a parking permit, when they use an hourly meter and their class runs over or they have something else occurring, a lot of times we do end up with violations associated with that.”
While the violation numbers do look like a high amount on paper, the number of people coming and going throughout the day in downtown Boone is much larger than people realize.
“Part of our challenge is not only do we have residents using those parking spaces, students that are using those parking spaces, but we also have a lot of pressure on those spaces and a lot of demand and it goes back to tourism. A lot of times, we’ll end up having that. So, if you look at the number of spaces, and you look at the number of times those spaces turnover in a typical day if you look at it in that context, the number of violations are relatively small based on the number of interactions of vehicles in each space every day,” Ward explained.
Tourism numbers have continued to increase in the High Country despite COVID-19, and the parking revenue numbers to close out the year are showing that as well, according to Ward, even without students being on campus and potentially using parking spots downtown.
“One of the things we are starting to experience that’s offsetting that and if you look at the Tourism Development Authority numbers, you look at our hotel, motel numbers as well as Airbnb and short-term rental numbers, we’re seeing tourism spikes that center around those times when students are not here, and that has been a huge shot in the arm for local economies specifically in the November and December time frame this past year when ASU let out for Thanksgiving, we saw the tourism spike starting then and starting to replace some of that student use,” said Ward. “We had somewhere between 900 and 1000 people visit the Jones House the very last week of December and it was indicative of those growing tourism numbers.”
The decline in revenues can be tied to the need to replace and repair parking meters. As both Moody and Ward pointed out, these current parking meters on King Street were installed in 2014 and 2015 and are just not built to withstand the weather cycles here on and on without some sort of issues.
“Parking meters are not easy to keep up with. It’s hard when they are outside in our weather all the time,” said Moody.
“You’ve got a pretty intricate system of parking meter management, the parking meters themselves as well as the financial transaction processing because of our ability to accept credit cards instead of just coins. So, all of those operational costs are covered. The other portion that does go to the general fund also is then redirected back toward public works because our public works staff and facilities division are the actual repair people that come out if there’s a damaged meter or if meters have to be replaced. The follow up with that is meter replacement,” Ward explained. “Those meters first went up in 2014-2015 and you’re looking at the need. They are a cell-based smart meter, so we can tell when the last transaction occurred. We can tell if a credit card was swiped and how much payment was made. All of that is based on cellular technology and you can imagine now that we were going from back then from 2 and 3G to now 5G is available, so we’re also having to constantly upgrade based on technology upgrades. There’s always something tied to that. For instance, there’s a good number of those meters that are having to be replaced in the upcoming year that has technology that is being phased out. So to utilize the full capability of the smart meter, we’re also transitioning and you can imagine what the elements do to some kind of device that’s out there 24/7 in the weather environment that we have here.”
The support for metered parking first began a decade ago. A group of local business leaders and town representatives formed a parking task force a decade ago to find a way to deal with increased Appalachian State football game traffic and concluded that adding parking meters was one way to deal with game attendees parking in downtown. The Boone Town Council approved the recommendation in 2013. The original cost of installing all of the parking meters back in 2014 was $166,889.