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.

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One thought on “An initiative petition is coming to your downtown.

  1. The reality is Salem has too much parking. Get rid of the garages and have them redeveloped. Downtown Salem went all in for the car and now it’s breaking the bank. Free or paid I don’t think it will make a difference. If we ever want to see a vibrant downtown Salem needs to get over it’s love affair with the car.

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