It would not be unfair to suggest that Council’s paid parking pilot project has been a muddled mess since its very inception, and this week Council yet again reversed course on their own plan.
In November of 2021, I wrote that members of Council were requesting so many exemptions from their planned expansion of the program from Memorial Park last year to include the harbour and David Johnston Park this year, that I wondered if it’s worth doing at all. On Monday members of Council arrived at the conclusion that they were biting off more than they could chew, and they backed away from the expansion they had approved just a few months prior.
As I have written previously regarding this issue, this has been a council initiative from the very beginning, and it has been a mess. As I wrote in May of last year, the paid parking debacle shows why Council shouldn’t shoot from the hip.
“At Monday’s council meeting we witnessed the falling apart of a poorly cobbled together plan after Council stomped on the brake and made a U-turn away from their own paid parking pilot project, and ultimately limited the pilot project to just Memorial Park, not all of Meaford’s parks and green spaces, as was the original plan,” I wrote last spring, when Council had backed away from its own plan, and not for the last time.
The paid parking pilot project was born during Council’s budget deliberations for 2021. Council, seeking ways to generate revenue in hopes of lessening the burden on municipal ratepayers, asked staff to explore the potential for a paid parking program and requested a report.
At that time Council had given initial approval to an option provided by staff that would implement a fee for parking at all municipal parking lots located at parks and open spaces. Residents of the municipality as well as boaters with slips at the harbour and campers at Memorial Park would not have been required to pay for parking with the option chosen by Council.
In the months that followed, Council began hearing from residents about the plan, and many weren’t happy. So when it came time for Council to give final approval for the pilot project, suddenly, with no warning to staff, Council reversed course and opted instead to limit the pilot project to just Memorial Park.
I can’t say that I was surprised to see the proposed pilot project experience resistance from Meaford residents; the proposal seemed to come out of the blue, because it did. In November of 2020, a council desperate to reduce the required rate increase in 2021 as much as possible sought to find ways to shift some of the burden from Meaford ratepayers and onto visitors to this community who use our parks, our trash cans, and public washrooms.
In November of 2021, Council voted in favour of expanding the paid parking program this year to include the harbour and David Johnston Park. The plan was included in the 2022 budget, and then mere minutes after approving the 2022 budgets on Monday, February 14, Council made another surprise decision to back away from their own plan once again, making all of the work they had put staff through rendered useless, and Council instead voted on a new motion to leave things as they are for 2022 with the paid parking pilot project to continue at Memorial Park only.
As I wrote last year, “Nobody asked for a paid parking program other than Council, yet Council has seemed to fight the project in some form or fashion from the outset. Again, the job of a municipal councillor is one of frustration and little in the way of thanks, but local councils all too often create issues for themselves that need not exist, and the paid parking initiative is one of those issues.”
Council’s intentions might have been pure in November of 2020 when they drummed up the paid parking proposal; they were doing what ratepayers have been asking – find ways to lessen the burden, but what has followed has been one reversal after another as Council has bowed to public pressure and reversed course time after time.
Personally I have no opinion on paid parking, though I will say that the plan all along has been for Meaford residents to be exempt from having to pay for parking, and I don’t think a $10 parking fee would discourage the GTA tourists that we are trying to attract, as paying for parking is part of their daily lives, and 10 bucks would likely be seen as a bargain. But sometimes councils have to be brave and they have to stick to their convictions, but that is not what we have seen on this issue. Instead we have seen a weak council seemingly afraid to move forward with their own plan for fear of upsetting voters. A tough situation to be sure.
Council has nobody to blame but themselves when it comes to the paid parking pilot project, but the cost (though minor) of Council’s inability to stick their own plan will be on the backs of Meaford ratepayers.