The City is asking for another year of EID funding.

On Monday evening, June 10th, the Salem City Council will vote on whether or not to collect the final year of the Economic Improvement District(EID) assessment on downtown property.  The EID assessment is paid by downtown property owners to provide services such as First Wednesday, visitor maps, promotions, sidewalk cleanliness, hanging baskets, newsletters, holiday decorations, etc., throughout downtown.

In the fall of 2011, the City of Salem advertised for a downtown organization.  After a lengthy process, the City awarded the contract to the Salem Downtown Partnership (SDP).

After the contract was awarded, the city asked the downtown property owners to renew the EID assessment for an additional 3 years with SDP being the contract provider.  The EID was renewed and the SDP received it’s first quarter funding in February 2012.

One year later, at the February 11, 2013 City Council meeting, councilor Chuck Bennett made a motion to change the EID ordinance to allow the City to take control of the EID money.

Immediately after the February Council meeting, the City Manager terminated the Salem Downtown Partnership’s contract.   There was no survey to assess how satisfied the downtown community was with the SDP and it’s programs, no violation of the contract, and no  warning the city was in any way unhappy with the SDP.  Needless to say, the board was stunned.

The SDP board hired a local attorney to help them better understand the city’s desire to terminate a seeming successful organization.  The resulting report showed the most likely reason for the termination was the City wanted to eliminate any organized opposition to the installation of parking meters downtown.  In fact, the City used the same tactic in 2005, when it terminated the Salem Downtown Association, just prior to implementing 2 hour parking downtown.

On Monday night, the City Council will vote whether or not to collect the final year of the 3 year renewal period.  We cry foul play!

The EID was renewed with the understanding an independent organization, voted in by the downtown community, would be receiving the EID funds.  But the City changed the language after the election to allow the City to take the money.   This isn’t what the downtown property owners voted to support.  This is a violation of public trust.

Now the City Manager has hand-selected a few individuals to determine which programs will continue to receive EID funding.  The meeting dates/times are not posted, no agendas are available, and who serves on the committee is not publicly known.

Each year, before it drafted its annual budget, the SDP provided an annual survey to assess which programs were most valued. Everyone downtown was invited to participate in the survey. The survey helped guide which programs received funding.  The final budget was mailed to all downtown tax payers and publicly approved by the board at the annual meeting.

All meeting dates, times and locations were posted on the SDP website prior to any meeting.  Everyone was welcome, and encouraged, to participate in meetings.  The names of current SDP board members, and the current budget, were always available on the SDP website.

Now we have a secret committee, hand selected and led by the City Manager, determining how our funds are to be spent.   The City waited one year after the renewal vote to change the language in the ordinance so the city could take control of the money.  Our City Councilor, Chuck Bennett, refused to intervene on behalf of the downtown.

We should ask City Council to stop collection of the EID assessment as of June 30, 2013.  We no longer have any accountability for how the funds are spent, as was promised in the EID renewal information.  There is no contract between the City and downtown tax-payers for responsible use of the funds, no budget approval method, no reporting required, and no accountability.

If you would like to send an email to city council, asking them to stop collecting the EID assessment as of June 2013, please use this email address:

CITYCOUNCIL@CITYOFSALEM.NET

The above address will deliver your comment to all 8 city councilors and the mayor.  If you would like testify at the City Council meeting Monday night, show up at 6:30 to sign up to speak.  To read the staff report on this issue click this link:

http://www.cityofsalem.net/CouncilMeetingAgenda/Documents/272/3.2a.pdf

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Initiative Petition coming soon!

Fingers crossed.  We are hoping our initiative petition preventing parking meters downtown will be through the City process this week so we can begin gathering signatures to put this on the Nov ballot. . . . .

Watch for us during FIRST WEDNESDAY on June 5th – sign the petition!

The City Recorder has been, as usual, very accommodating, and Randall Tosh, city attorney, has been helpful (we think), but it has taken longer than any of us imagined.  We are working with attorney, John Gear, on the petition language.  We highly recommend John if you ever need legal help.

As of today, here is our petition language:

(A)  Within the Downtown Parking District described in SRC 7.010, parking meters and time limits are prohibited for any city-owned parking (on or off-street), except as permitted below. 

(B)  The city-owned multi-level parking structures (Chemeketa, Liberty, and Marion Parkades) are exempted from the prohibition of (b) above.

 (C)  Except when authorized by a valid parking permit, the following persons may not park a motor vehicle in the Downtown Parking District in any on-street parking zone or in an off-street parking facility, between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and  8:00 p.m. except Sundays and legal holidays:

 (1) A student, during the time the student is attending a class at an educational institution. This subsection shall not apply to any student attending the first scheduled day of class in which the student is enrolled; 

(2) A person working in his or her place of employment; 

(3) A person engaged in the conduct of his or her business or profession at one location within the Downtown Parking District for a period lasting two or more consecutive days;

(4) A person summoned to serve as a juror in the Circuit Court of the State of Oregon for Marion County; 

(5) A person who is an unsalaried employee or volunteer worker who is assigned to or working at any agency, office, or business establishment, including nonprofit organizations located within the Downtown Parking District, but not including volunteers who are working temporarily within the Downtown Parking District for recognized nonprofit charitable organizations whose immediate purpose is the temporary promotion of their organization whose normal place of business is located outside the area described in SRC 7.010. 

(D)  Within the Downtown Parking District, the city may designate up to 50 on-street parking spaces with 30-minute parking limits and signage, with enforcement.

(E)  Increased annual assessments to finance the operation of the Downtown Parking District, SRC 7.110(a), is capped at the lesser of the percentage increase in the Bureau of Labor Statistics general consumer price index for the Portland, Oregon, metropolitan area for the preceding calendar year or 2.0%.

Watch for the petition booth on the street from 11 AM -2 PM Monday through Friday (corner of Court/Liberty).  Can’t find the booth – visit any of the downtown businesses with a “Sign the Petition Here” poster in their window – make a new friend – go in and ask to sign the petition.

An initiative petition is coming to your downtown.

When Dr Martin Luther King gave his famous “Free, Free, Free at Last” speech he probably never imaged a grandmother-aged, old white woman would feel the power of that same relief in 2013.

But I do.  Finally, there is a citizen activated political process to stop the locomotive called City Council from the train wreck they are planning.  An initiative petition is the path of those with no hope left that their elected official will do the right thing  – so here we are.

We have submitted an initiative petition to the City of Salem and we are within days of starting to collect 8,000 signatures to get the petition on the Nov 5 ballot so we can vote ourselves back to some level of sanity.

So, What is Happening?

Here is what the City Manager reported she wanted at the April 19th Council Work Session on Downtown Parking:

1. ) Install Pay and Display meters throughout downtown
2.)  Charge $1.25 per hour
3.)  Let people buy all the time they want
4.) Allow employees to park on-street
5.) Eliminate the Parking Tax downtown businesses pay

Sounds like a solution, but to the wrong problem.  We don’t have a parking problem on-street downtown, we have a runaway revenue problem in the downtown garages.  Parking meters are a parking management tool, not a revenue tool.  Wrong tool.

Here is what the initiative petition would do:

1.) Prohibit paid parking and time limit parking on-street 
2.) Require the City to prevent employees from parking on-street
3.) Limit the annual increase of Parking Tax to a max of 2% per year

Downtown had a great free, unlimited time customer parking program for over 35 years – until the City decided to stop enforcing their ordinance to prevent employees from parking on-street.

Why doesn’t downtown want meters?

We would love meters if the city were installing them because the downtown was so successful there really was a parking problem sufficient to need a parking management tool, like meters. But that doesn’t exist yet, it may someday.

How did the City prevent employees from parking on-street in the past?

Twice a year, the city sent a letter to all downtown businesses.  The businesses were required to list all their employees-or pay a large fine.  The City cross-referenced the employees with DMV records and recorded license plate numbers into a hand-held unit.

When an officer noticed the same car parked several hours, day after day, they simply punched the license plate number into the hand-held unit.   If the license plate number came up as a downtown employee, the officer visited the business and issued a ticket – but only if the employee was working in the business.  The system worked well until the city broke it.

What problem do we have now?

What we have is a revenue problem that deserves to be solved.  But meters are the wrong tool for that job.  We need the City to get their costs in hand and make some hard decision.  They may need to tighten their belt, or put the parking garages under private management.

If the City has a revenue problem in the garages, increase the income in the garages -don’t spread the problem onto the street. The City needs to re-examine how the parking tax is levied, and levy it against everyone doing business downtown, like the Wednesday Farmers Market, Riverfront Park events, and Conference Center, for example.

Was 2 hour parking successful downtown?

When a city defines the wrong problem, a solution gets crafted that doesn’t work.  That’s what the City did with 2 hour parking, and it hasn’t worked at all.  Even the City admits it now.

The City implemented 2 hour limits because their consultant said they would collect $500,000 of new revenue with parking tickets.  But last year enforcement costs exceeded ticket revenue by $110,000.  They LOSE $110,000 a year.  Now they want meters.

It is time time take back control of our downtown parking before the City Council and staff break it beyond repair.

How did the City determine how much money they needed?

The Downtown Advisory Board (DAB) created a spreadsheet showing how much additional revenue would be needed to catch up on deferred maintenance in the downtown garages, and provide regular maintenance over 10 years, including operational cost increases each year.  The answer was an additional $425,000 of revenue each year.

DAB also found, the city was spending $400,000 a year for “security” in the downtown garages that was not needed in any other city owned garages.  DAB thought, great, we solved the revenue problem.  Delete security and plug that money into deferred maintenance-problem solved, feeling mighty smug.

But  instead the City Council took the “security” money and used it to plug a hole in the general fund (saved 2 city police officers jobs).  So, now we are still $425,000 short of enough revenue.   So close.

So, the City Manager took over

The City Manager decided to round up the $425,000 number to $500,000 (an extra $75,000 every year), then added a fictional operational shortage of $160,000 a year, and rounded that up to $200,000 (another extra $40,000 a year).   Then deducted the $383,000 from eliminating the Parking Tax (rounded up to $400,000) and landed on a shortfall of $1.1 million a  year.

Then they divided up the amount of meter hours per day, multiplied by the a price and determined they need to charge $1.25 / hour for the downtown meters.  Well, actually $1.25 an hour will bring in $1.3 million a year (so another $200,000 surplus annually).

Never mind that meter rates are calculated based on achieving parking turnover.  You keep raising the rate until you get the desired turn over.   But this was NEVER about parking, it was ALWAYS about revenue.

Lets solve the problems we have, not fictional problems the city creates.  Sign the petition so we can vote on this issue in Nov, and get meters off the table – then we can start discussing the real problem- increasing revenue AND cutting costs so we can have a financially sustainable customer parking program downtown.

Things got heated up and uncomfortable

On Monday, May 14th, the Editorial Board of the Statesman Journal (Dick Hughes and Kathy Goss) interviewed the City Manager and Mayor about the end of free parking in downtown Salem.  Clearly the city brought in the big guns, but it didn’t help.  The big guns attending were:

Doug Rux – Urban Development
Chuck Bennett – City Councilor
Jennifer Martin – Downtown Advisory Board
Tyler Jackson – Jackson Jewelers/Parking Task Force

Oh my gosh, where to begin on the half truths and tangled lies in that discussion.   The bout didn’t end in a knock out, but the score definitely was Editorial Board 15, City 0,or maybe a minus number.

Although parking meters are a tool to manage parking, there was no actual discussion about parking.  The City made it’s usual push for more revenue and used the Parking Task Force of hand picked ringers to try to convince Dick that somehow the combination of parking meters and additional revenue are connected, and that no one clearly cared about the downtown customers or businesses. . . .    What a train wreck.  At one point Dick was making a point (a rather good one I thought) and Chuck Bennett kept interrupting him.  Dick finally fired off ” Then you can just leave”.  .  .  Real fireworks from mild mannered Dick.

Kathy Goss even got some great points in – but the City just tried to gloss over their bad deeds with city-speak.  Doug Rux is incredibly accomplished at city-speak, he never really answers the question, but it sounds like it he means it, and he uses a lot of words.  Kinds of lulls people into a short coma.

If you want to see the City make a desperate plea for more money and get caught with their hand squarely in the cookie jar – watch the video.

We can stop parking meters downtown

Yes, we can legally stop parking meters – even if City Council votes for them.  We, as citizens, have the initiative petition process in our favor.

Tell us what issues you feel should be include in the petition.  The initiative petition language will be built based on your input.

Take the survey before April 26th at:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/InitiativePetitionSurvey

Only 10 quick questions on the survey – don’t put it off-the prize could be continued free downtown parking!

Eliminate the Parking Tax?

Recently we asked 1,800 people how paid parking would affect downtown – over 600 people visited this website!

On April 2nd the Parking Task Force voted unanimously to – recommend paid on-street parking, elimination of the downtown parking tax, and annual review of income/expense.  The meter charge would be $1.25 a hour.

Does the elimination of the parking tax change how your feel about
paid on-street parking downtown?

This recommendation will go to the City Council Worksession on April 29th at 5:30 PM.  It is estimated the City Council will vote in May to install paid parking downtown.  Once the council votes, it will take 9-12 months for study and installation.  To review who serves on the Parking Task Force click here.

Paid parking is NOT a done deal – read this blog next week to learn how to prevent paid on-street parking downtown.  To make a comment – click “Leave a reply” below.

State Street Trees

The City of Salem has issued a permit to US Bank to remove 5 Japanese Zelkova trees along State Street because they are buckling the sidewalk.

In 2010, the City’s Urban Forester indicated the tree roots could be pruned enough to prevent the sidewalk damage, and save the trees.  The City’s Shade Tree Committee denied the City’s request to remove the trees.

In 2012, US Bank requested permission to remove the trees and the City’s Shade Tree Committee denied the request again.  US Bank “verbally” appealed the committee’s decision.

In January 2013, the Shade Tree Committee held a second public hearing where a number of opponents testified, and a petition signed by 22 downtown business owners and employees was presented opposing the tree removal.  The Shade Tree Committee voted to deny the request for removal.

US Bank appealed the decision to the Director of Public Works, who has overturned the Shade Tree Committee’s recommendation.  A permit has been issued for US Bank to begin removal of the trees as early as April 10th.

Parking meters downtown?

At the City Council’s last Parking Task Force meeting, the city staff stated the only solution to the deferred maintenance problem in the downtown garages is to install pay-and-display meters on-street downtown (but leave the garages free for customers).  The fee is estimated to be $1.25 per hour.

What effect will paid, on-street parking, have on downtown?

To read more about the Council’s Parking Task Force, click here.  You can attend the last Task Force meeting on Tuesday, April 2 at 7:30 AM in the Anderson Room at the LIbrary.