By Chris Mays, Brattleboro Reformer
BRATTLEBORO — Searching all over the car for change to pay for parking could become a thing of the past.
Town officials believe parking meters accepting credit or debit cards would result in a large increase in revenue that would allow the town to quickly repay a loan to buy the new machines and replace the coin meters.
Customers tend to spend more with cards than with coins when paying for parking, Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland told the Select Board on Tuesday. Estimates from a parking study anticipate a 15 percent increase in sales — about $23,044.
The town’s 175 parking meters could be replaced with new equipment for about $83,000, according to an offer from IPS Group of San Diego that includes delivery and installation.
“You could transition to smart meters quickly without having to wait for our cash on hand to build up,” said Moreland.
Town staff members are suggesting that the parking fund take a loan from the utility fund, where there are no concerns about needing the funds over a five-year period. They think using a 2.23 percent interest rate, the same rate being offered by Brattleboro Savings & Loan for borrowing $500,000 for an aerial ladder truck, would be a good rate and utility users would get some benefit.
Select Board member David Schoales said the plan made sense, but wondered why the money would not be borrowed from the parking fund or the town’s reserve fund. Moreland said surpluses in those funds act as buffers to protect against unexpected costs.
“I think we need a more robust conversation,” said Schoales. He agreed with Select Board Vice Chairwoman Brandie Starr, who called for a comprehensive discussion on parking in town.
The topic comes up as the board needs to approve a budget for the town’s parking fund next month. Moreland said the fund runs like a business, using revenues to cover expenses, and has four staff members.
The proposed $849,800 fiscal year 2019 budget includes a $17,625 decrease in liability insurance, due to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns restructuring the policy, and a $10,000 increase for snow removal. Town staff are planning to recommend replacing the upper stairs on the western side of the Transportation Center for about $54,000. The eastern side was completed about two years ago.
If the cost is higher, Moreland said, staff will likely suggest paving Preston Lot. That project was left out when Harmony Lot and Harris Lot were repaved last summer.
“It’s in pretty rough shape,” said Moreland.
He said staff members are also looking at prices for applying reflective paint or reworking the lighting at the Transportation Center. These items were recommended in a downtown parking plan submitted by Desman Design Management of Boston last month.
Moving from coin to card readers had also been included in the plan. Town staff knew it was going to be a hot topic, Moreland said.
Downtown Brattleboro Alliance Executive Director Stephanie Bonin advocated for switching the meters, discussing bike parking and alternative transportation options, and improving the lighting in the Transportation Center and other public places. She told the board she was representing many merchants, residents, organizations and offices.
Bonin also mentioned software that could be installed on the existing meters and would not cost as much as entirely replacing them.
“I think they’re extremely user friendly and phenomenally useful,” she said.
Dave Cohen, of VBike and Brattleboro Coalition for Active Transportation, said lack of infrastructure and parking for cyclists is keeping some from coming to town. He sees a growing popularity for larger bicycles being used to carry cargo and kids.
“I think bike parking is really essential here,” he said.