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Oxford authorizes purchase of new parking meters

Oxford City Council approved a resolution to purchase just less than 400 new parking meters at its April 6 meeting.

The resolution, presented by Oxford Police Chief John Jones, authorizes the city manager to buy 367 digital single-space meters and 12 multi-space parking meters at a cost of $300,000. The new meters will replace the city’s current coin meters and allow residents to pay with card readers instead.

Jones said the new meters are a necessary purchase, and the city should make its money back within 11 months. The new meters are estimated to generate $1.3 million in revenue over five years.

“A public demand for more payment methods and a desire for this technology is something I’ve heard since I became police chief,” Jones said. “And also, much of our equipment is no longer manufactured and can no longer be repaired.”

Each time a credit card is used to pay for parking, the new parking meters would charge a 13 cent transaction fee. While Jones said the city will pay the transaction fee rather than residents,  the resolution’s revenue estimates are based on an increased consumer cost of one dollar an hour rather than a quarter an hour.

Councilor Bill Snavely said while he supports replacing outdated equipment, he objects to the raise in price. 

“We’re making [profit] on the heads of people in town, not all of whom are wealthy and think nothing of throwing money into a meter,” Snavely said. “If we want to encourage people to be going Uptown, I’m not sure why we would want to discourage them financially from doing so.”

Councilor David Prytherch spoke in favor of the new meters, saying the higher price of parking would encourage residents to walk or bike Uptown rather than drive.

“I want to incentivize people to come Uptown, but I’m not sure according to our council goals [that] we want to make it cheap and easy for them to drive their vehicles and park them,” Prytherch said. “I think we want people to think twice about driving … we can use the pricing of parking to achieve our transportation sustainability goals.”

Snavely suggested the new meters could be programmed to charge less than one dollar. While this would make the resolution’s payback period longer, reducing the parking fee to 50 cents would still cover the city’s expenses within three years according to the meter company’s estimates.

Prytherch added the new meters may enable the city to have flexible rates depending on the time of day, time of year or other factors.

Councilor Chantel Raghu said she hopes the new parking meters’ estimated $1.3 million revenue would go toward initiatives that benefit the city.

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“Can [the money] go toward something good?” Raghu asked. “Can that go toward the affordable housing fund so we can put it to good use? … Can we figure out a way that this money is actually coming back into the community in a very positive way?”

City manager Doug Elliott said parking revenue goes into the general fund to pay back the expense of building the Uptown Parking Garage.

“Profit is not a very good word to use because it supports the maintenance of the parking garage [and] the debt service,” Elliott said. “It also pays for the parking attendants that work for us.”

The resolution passed unanimously, though the exact pricing won’t be decided until closer to the new meters’ installation over the summer.

Council also heard the first reading of an ordinance to revise the times parking meters are active.

Currently, parking meter fees are enforced from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The ordinance would extend those hours to 8 p.m. to account for the dinner rush Uptown each day.

“Anecdotally, people are saying the city is dumb, is stupid not to be charging at those hours when the turnover should be the greatest,” Councilor Edna Southard said.

The ordinance will be revisited at the next City Council meeting, which will be streamed on YouTube at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 20.