A couple walk on Main Street near angled two-hour parking spots. Under a city proposal, tickets for exceeding the two-hour limit would increase from $10 to $25, enforcement would increase from seasonal to year-round and all-day parking would require a $50-per-month permit. (Photo by Rick Green, The Laconia Daily Sun).

LACONIA — All-day parking downtown, now free, would come at a cost under a proposal being considered by the City Council.

City Manager Scott Myers unveiled a plan Monday night to also step up enforcement of parking regulations and to more than double the cost of parking tickets.

The council referred the proposal to a committee for further vetting and public input.

“Public parking spaces, whether on-street, in a garage or in a surface parking lot, are a valuable commodity for municipalities and should be managed in a way that supports the needs of residents, business owners and visitors alike,” a staff report stated. “In line with that thinking, financial support for the upkeep and improvements to a parking system must also be considered.”

The municipal parking garage is in need of major improvement. It leaks and has structural problems that would cost several million dollars to repair. The city’s main surface lot also needs repaving.

Under the proposal, those wishing to park downtown for more than two hours would need a permit that would cost $50 a month. Two-hour parking would remain free. City employees would continue to get free all-day parking.

Parking tickets, now $10, would increase to $25. A new employee would be hired to do year-round parking enforcement, which is currently done only in the summer. People who move from short-term spot to short-term spot to exceed the two-hour restriction would also be subject to tickets.

Yet to be determined is what to do about visitors who need to park for longer than two hours.

“A discussion should occur as to whether or not 2 hours is the appropriate limit for parking spaces and whether or not the first hours should be free of charge,” the staff report said.

“If the City were looking to charge customers for all parking during a regulated time period (9 am to 5 pm, M - F for example) then a Pay & Display parking kiosk system would need to be implemented. To cover all areas of the downtown parking district with kiosks, including the garage, we anticipate the need for 25-30 kiosks.”

It would cost more than $200,000 to buy the kiosks and the costs for maintenance and software subscriptions would cost $30,000 yearly.

Reuben Bassett, owner of the Burrito Me restaurant downtown, said he doesn’t object to a pay-for-parking scheme as long as it is tied to a long-term plan for the area.

“I can’t think of a place where people want to go, a desired location, that doesn’t charge for parking,” he said. “But we’ve just got to stop doing things piecemeal. It’s fine to go step by step if you have a bigger plan. That’s my frustration — what’s the bigger plan?”

A trip downtown at 1 p.m. Tuesday showed many open two-hour parking spots and many vacant storefronts. The long-term surface parking lot outside City Hall was mostly full. Spots were available in the city parking garage, which offers long-term parking.

City leaders hope the long-awaited refurbishment of the Colonial Theatre will spur development downtown, increasing the need for parking.

All-day parking is at a premium now, said Mayor Ed Engler.

“There is more demand than there is supply, and that’s a problem,” he said.

Engler said employers need to take responsibility for ensuring their employees have a place to park.

Under the proposal, the city would allow a business to purchase – at a discount – all-day parking permits for its employees.

Charlie St. Clair, who owns the downtown Laconia Antique Center, also doesn’t object to charging for parking.

“The one thing I would strongly object to is having kiosks over meters,” he said. “Meters are more user friendly.”

Robert Sawyer, who owns Sawyers Jewelry downtown, said he personally doesn’t encounter a lack of all-day parking.

“I drive into the garage,” he said. “There are a lot of people who prefer not to be in the garage.

“I would think that when things are fully developed, parking would be tight.”

The city has 675 public parking spaces in the downtown area, 300 all-day and 375 two-hour. The distribution of all-day and two-hour spaces downtown could be adjusted, depending on demand for parking permits.

Under a paid permit system for all-day parking, if the city sold 225 monthly permits at $50 each, the annual revenue would be $135,000 per year. The cost of hiring a full-time enforcement employee, with benefits, would be $55,000 per year.

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