The Burlington Departmemt of Public Works says it costs them about $700,000 a year to offer two hours of free parking in all three of the city-owned downtown garages. Much of that cost has been covered by business owners through a Downtown Improvement District — or DID — tax.
However, at its May meeting, the Church Street Marketplace Commission voted to give businesses a tax break, cutting the DID tax in half. “It was unreasonable to have a $700,000 program subsidized by 300,000 (in DID funding),” Burlington DPW interim assistant director for parking and traffic Jeff Padgett said. “It’s certainly even more unreasonable to have 150,000 try to subsidize 700,000.”
Facing that funding reduction, the DPW wanted to know what it would cost if they continued the two free hours at the Lakeview Garage and the College Street Garage but got rid of them at the Marketplace. Their estimate found that the price tag would be slashed to somewhere within the $150,000 to $180,000 range.
Padgett also said an elimination of the two free hours at the Marketplace would alleviate an operational state of affairs at that garage that he finds unacceptable. “The Marketplace Garage is currently way, way overused,” he said. “It’s shut down three to four days a week, two or three times a day.”
Last week, at the June meeting of the city’s Public Works Commission, he said he’s spoken with downtown businesspeople and the Church Street Marketplace Commission about these issues. “And they sort of said, ‘yeah, we don’t need two hours free, what we need is convenient parking”,” Padgett said. “So if we don’t have two hours free at Marketplace, it will increase turnover, which will increase opportunity.”
In a published memo, Padgett wrote that 80% of the drivers using the Marketplace Garage don’t produce any parking revenue for the city because they stay for less than two hours. The DPW is proposing to get rid of the two free hours at that garage, effective January 1. “Two hours free, it’s been here for 25 years, so that change will be noticed,” Padgett said.
Under the new rate structure, the first two hours would each cost $1. “We’ve talked with the business community downtown, and they are OK with that structure,” Padgett said. “We also have other funding through DID that we can use for a merchant validation program, so we are working with the merchants to set that up.”
The Public Works Commission is expected to have this switch at the Marketplace Garage — from two free hours to merchant validation — on its agenda for possible action at its July 15th meeting.