Friday, June 25, 2021

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 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, 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.

Council asked staff to prepare a report exploring the potential for a paid parking program at municipal parks and green spaces. The report had to be prepared and presented to Council quickly as time was running out in the budget process. A couple of weeks later Council received the report they requested, and staff had provided four options for council to consider.

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.

The plan approved at budget time was to have generated revenues of $70,000, with net revenues forecast to be $60,000 in 2021, $60,000 that would not come from the pockets of Meaford ratepayers.

In the months to follow, Council began hearing from residents about the plan, and many weren’t happy. So when it came time this week 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.

This might make some happy, but Council’s decision means that rather than generating $70,000 in revenues in 2021, staff estimates that with the project being undertaken only at Memorial Park, just $25,000 is expected to be generated, leaving Meaford ratepayers on the hook for a $45,000 shortfall in the 2021 operating budget.

This is why a municipal council should never shoot from the hip.

Council’s intentions were pure. They sought to find ways to generate the required funding for this year’s operating budget while shifting a small part of the burden on those who visit this community. It is quite likely that a municipal-wide paid parking program might make some sense, but when a council asks staff to prepare a report exploring the potential for a paid parking program, and they are given just a couple of weeks to do so, there was no time for the typical public input, and no time to consult the BIA or Chamber of Commerce. Council had requested the report for budget purposes, and staff provided what was requested.

While I have heard some residents castigate staff over this paid parking debacle, we must remember that this was not a staff initiative. This project came about after a request from Council. Council was provided with four options (a fifth option of course would have been to do nothing regarding paid parking), and Council selected an option and approved it. Staff arranged a service provider, they ordered signage, and at the very final moment Council had a change of heart.

Meaford’s Treasurer was right to remind Council that the paid parking pilot was their baby. From the initial request to the final vote, this was a council driven initiative, and if we learn anything from this ordeal it should be that a council desperate to find revenue-generating opportunities should not do so in the heat of budget deliberations, and they should never request a speedy report from staff for something that would have as large an impact on the community as a paid parking program.

If Council wanted to explore paid parking possibilities in this municipality, they should have done so in a measured approach that would have included the typical public input as well as consultation with major stakeholders like the BIA and the Chamber of Commerce.

In a moment of budget-time desperation, Council chose to shoot from the hip, and they ended up shooting themselves in the foot, and now we have a very limited paid parking pilot project that will be undertaken at just Memorial Park, causing some, including Meaford’s Treasurer, to question the value of the stripped down pilot project. And on top of it all, Council has handed Meaford ratepayers a $45,000 shortfall that will ultimately come out of their pockets.

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