End free parking to make downtown Raleigh cleaner, safer?

ccampbell@newsobserver.comJune 9, 2014 

— City Councilman Wayne Maiorano says downtown needs to be cleaner and safer – and he’s willing to consider eliminating free weekend parking to pay for it.

Maiorano highlighted what he sees as downtown’s shortcomings in a May 30 email to fellow council members. “I am growing increasingly concerned we are not doing enough for safety and appearance,” he wrote, pointing to litter problems, vomit on the sidewalk and a limited police presence.

“More troubling is a growing concern over certain behavior being encountered – including a growing volume of intoxicated, rowdy or confrontational individuals. Our residents and businesses deserve better.”

To pay for additional security and cleanings, Maiorano asked city staff to estimate how much the city could earn by charging a $5 flat rate at downtown parking decks on evenings and weekends. Most city-owned decks currently offer free parking after 7 p.m. and on weekends.

City parking officials report that based on how many people currently use the deck, a $5 fee could raise about $1 million each year.

The report suggests that charging could create other benefits as well. “Nights and weekends are also the main times when vandalism and other criminal activities occur, so it is hoped that charging for parking in the late night and weekend hours will decrease instances of crime in the decks,” the report says.

But when the findings were presented at a budget meeting Monday, some council members weren’t convinced.

“The not charging on nights and weekends is a big piece of why we’re successful downtown,” Mayor Nancy McFarlane said.

But McFarlane said that doesn’t mean pay parking isn’t an option. She pointed out that Raleigh could face a $7.9 million budget shortfall next year because the state has repealed cities’ privilege license tax, which businesses pay to the city.

“It’s going to be part of the conversation next year as we look at our $7 mlllion hole,” she said.

In the meantime, City Manager Ruffin Hall said he’s taking steps to address concerns about downtown. His budget for the coming fiscal year includes two new maintenance workers for downtown parking decks, and will deploy nine new police officers across the city.

“The Downtown Raleigh Alliance is recommending additional resources to assist with downtown cleanliness issues,” Hall wrote in an email response.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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