Two parking issues survive budget cuts

The following article appeared in the December 19 edition of the Guelph Tribune:

Free two-hour parking on downtown streets and seasonal overnight parking on streets all over the city have survived the 2009 city budget hurdle.

Monday’s votes by council to back these two measures also spelled the end of the parking budget as a user-pay budget – because property taxes will be used to help pay for both, starting in 2009. This leaves the city’s water and wastewater budgets as the only ones still fully financed by users.

City hall staff proposed that $725,000 in lost annual revenue from the meters be recouped by taking $200,000 from the operating budget and getting the other $525,000 from increases in parking fines and off-street parking fees –the first in six years.

Mayor Karen Farbridge, who campaigned in 2006 to bring free on-street parking to the downtown, spoke strongly Monday in support of keeping it. Her remarks came after Coun. Gloria Kovach moved that council cut the 2009 budget by getting rid of free on-street parking, while still imposing the $525,000 worth of higher parking fees and fines.

“I do feel this is an economic development issue,” Farbridge said. “It is about jobs, it is about a vital downtown.”

Coun. Bob Bell said the city is planning about $65 million worth of capital projects in the downtown, including the Wilson Street parking garage, a new Guelph Civic Museum in the Loretto convent, a new main library, and more. “I think we have been very generous in our support of the downtown, and I think you can go too far on some issues,” said Bell, arguing against continuing the free on-street parking.

Coun. Karl Wettstein said the business development community was impressed by council’s move to make downtown street parking free, and it should be continued for at least another year.

Coun. Ian Findlay said there is strong city-wide support for the free downtown parking, just as there is for seasonal overnight parking on streets all over the city.

Kovach’s motion failed on a 9-4 vote. Councillors Christine Billings and Kathleen Farrelly joined Kovach and Bell in voting for it.

Except on some designated streets in the city’s core, overnight parking on Guelph streets was illegal for decades until a pilot project this year, which was deemed a success.

In November, staff recommended that seasonal overnight parking be made permanent, at an estimated annual cost of $200,000 in lost revenue from fines. Staff proposed that this $200,000 be included in the 2009 operating budget as a new city service. However, early this month, senior administration proposed removing this item from the budget to help bring the 2009 property tax increase down from 5.3% to about 3.75%.

On Monday, Coun. June Hofland moved that this $200,000 item be put back in the budget, saying she wanted overnight street parking to be allowed permanently in Guelph. Staff had proposed overnight parking be allowed for the seven months from April 1 to Nov. 1. However, after considerable debate, council backed an amendment by Coun. Leanne Piper to allow overnight parking only from May 1 to Oct. 31.