BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
The Greeneville Parking Authority on Monday raised rates on certain leased downtown parking spots and extended the hours that customers can park in certain free parking spots.
The Parking Authority voted unanimously to conduct a 90-day trial in the West Depot parking lot, a gravel lot located on the corner of West Depot Street and Irish Street, that would extend the 28 free parking spaces' time limit from two hours to three hours.
Parking Authority member Keith Paxton, a Greeneville alderman, proposed the change on a trial basis from Oct. 1 to Jan. 1.
Chris Ogle seconded the motion, which was approved unanimously.
The trial change received positive feedback from the audience, including Artie Wehenkel, Greeneville Sun advertising director, who said he represented 70 independent business owners in downtown Greeneville.
He explained that the shopping experience at the Greeneville Antique Market, located on West Depot Street, is different in some ways from other downtown businesses because that store is more conducive to extended browsing.
"We appreciate your all's effort to look for a solution that suits everybody," he concluded.
Longtime Depot Street business owner Charles Kyker also agreed to the proposal.
'MAINTAIN TWO HOURS'
However, Kyker remained an outspoken opponent of extending the time for free parking in areas directly fronting businesses.
Kyker, who said he has been in business for 62 years, said he is very familiar with downtown parking.
Extending the current two-hour free parking limit to allow for three-hour parking would essentially destroy businesses downtown because it would not allow for proper turnover, he said.
"You're raping the town of their business with three-and-a-half hour parking," he said. "You're raping us."
(Parking officer Michael Knapp, a Parking Authority employee, explained that, although the posted limit on free parking is two hours, he must allow for a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes extra on the two-hour posted time to avoid discrepancies in court on what time a person arrived at a parking space and what time the person left the space.
(The actual time change proposed, however, is from two hours to three hours, rather than from two hours to 3.5 hours.)
No action was taken to extend free parking time in any areas other than for the West Depot parking lot, and Parking Authority Chairman Tim Teague assured Kyker that the Parking Authority had no interest in mistreating any of the downtown businesses.
Teague also announced that he had spent the last six months negotiating the Parking Authority's monthly lease on this lot and was able to decrease the lease fee from $1,600 per month to $1,200 per month.
In order to come nearer to "breaking even" on the monthly amount paid for the lot, the Parking Authority voted unanimously to increase monthly per-spot leases in the lot by $6.
This increased the cost of the 53 spaces available for lease from $15 to $21. The change is effective Oct. 1.
At the request of downtown business owner Rebecca Wolfe, the Parking Authority also agreed to mark each of these 53 spots with individual signs noting them as leased spots.
A number of other proposed changes came under discussion during Monday's meeting, although the Parking Authority chose not to take action on any other changes at this time.
Knapp reported that one company had responded so far to his recent inquiries into the cost of parking meters.
Coin-operated meters would cost nearly $500 per meter, not including installation, considering the cost of the meter, the post and the protective sleeve, he said.
To upgrade to a credit- or debit card-capable electronic meter would be an additional $385 per meter, plus an unknown amount for the applicable software, Knapp reported.
These costs, he added, were based on the purchase of between 200 to 300 parking meters for the downtown area.
Depot Street alone encompasses approximately 78 spots, he said, and the per-meter cost would be increased if the Parking Authority chose to purchase only enough for that street's parking.
Placing electronic kiosks at the end of each block would cost approximately $100,000 per kiosk and would require customers to return to their vehicle to place a printed ticket on their windshield, Knapp said.
Paxton called for three specific prices for the Parking Authority to submit as a proposal to the Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen: the final price on coin-operated meters, electronic meters, and on kiosks.
"We need to stay electronic," he added. "I think the tourist people are going to be bringing credit cards."
Teague replied that he did not believe meters would be "very pretty" downtown, and the idea is, at this time, just "something to kind of kick around."
Another proposed change that stalled at the meeting was a proposal to lower the 7-foot height of the parking limit signs, which some have said are too tall to be easily seen.
But Knapp reported that state law requires downtown-area signs to be posted at 7 feet.
Progressive fines, however, seemed to gain some favor with the board.
Main Street: Greeneville Executive Director Jann Mirkov noted that she had spoken to other Main Street program officials from nearby cities that benefit from a progressive-fine approach.
Assistant Greeneville Police Chief Craig Fillers indicated that "it's very possible" that the department's proposed new software would allow Knapp to track tag numbers of past violators to issue progressive fines.
Teague said that the Parking Authority is "very concerned" about the reaction of tourists who say they will not return to the town because they received a ticket.
In response, he proposed that Knapp leave a friendly letter on the windshield of first-time offenders, explaining the parking limit in downtown Greenevillle.
Second-time offenders would then receive a minimal fine that would increase with progressive violations, without exceeding the city charter's limit of $50 per fine.
Ogle indicated his belief that such a progressive-fine system could be a reasonable means to regulating parking and fulfilling the Parking Authority's mission.
The Parking Authority requested that Knapp study the matter, including the necessary software, and present a proposal during a future meeting.
"We're not doing this to make money," Teague concluded. "I just want to keep parking going."
In other business, the town will now be accepting applications to fill the newly-open position vacated by former member Doug Payne.
Teague announced on Monday that Payne had submitted his letter of resignation, saying that his time was needed in other areas and that a new member could possibly bring fresh ideas to the board.
Although Payne was not present, Teague led the room in applause for Payne's years of service to the Parking Authority.
City Administrator Todd Smith explained that the Town will accept applications for the open position.
The Parking Authority will then review those applications and offer a recommendation for the Board of Mayor and Aldermen's appointment.