Despite some continuing complaints about the downtown meters, Mayor Justin Taylor stated that they are working as intended.
"We're collecting $1,000 a week in coins from the meters alone," he noted, "so we know that people are using them."
"That's not even counting the money that the city is generating from parking and meter fines," he pointed out. "It's only the coins."
Still, some business owners and city residents say "they're not working the same for everyone," and that they cost too much to boot.
Janet Price, owner of Barbour's Bakery, is among them. Last year, Price presented City Council with a petition signed by numerous downtown business owners who were upset by the parking situation in town. They complained that people were parking their vehicles all day long throughout the downtown area and taking up most or all of the available spaces, preventing customers and visitors from finding parking spots.
Price told the NEWS last week that the installation of the meters has solved that problem, so she was quick to say, "I'm glad they're here."
However, she said she does have some concerns when it comes to the meters, starting with how much it costs to use them and the fines for violations.
Parking at the metered spaces costs 25 cents for 15 minutes, or $1 for an hour. Fines for the red tickets which are issued for expired meters are $15 if paid within 24 hours, or $30 if paid after that; the yellow tickets for parking violations are $25 if paid within 24 hours, or $75 afterward.
"That's too much," Price argued.
City resident Colleen Fox agreed, stating of the meter rates and fines: "They're terrible — and especially for a lot of senior citizens, they just can't afford it."
"And the Saturday meters are ridiculous," she added.
Taylor noted that the meter fines are based on the cost of parking for a day, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (the nine hours when meters are monitored).
"If someone were to feed a meter all day long, it would cost $9, and we can't possibly levy fines for less than that," he explained. "For instance, if the fine were $5, everyone would just take the ticket every day rather than using one of the meters."
Price also took issue with the starting time for daily meter enforcement.
"I think 8 a.m. is a little early to start handing out tickets," she offered, pointing out that Ash Wednesday was a particularly troubling experience. "There were a lot of people who went to church at 8 o'clock that morning, then the meter maid came by at three minutes after eight and ticketed all of their vehicles."
"I can't tell you the number of people who came into the shop that morning and told us how upset they were by that," Price related. "But then if you go to one of the bars at night, you don't have to worry about getting a ticket."
Page 2 of 3 - "I don't have a problem with anyone who wants to go to a bar at night, that's their business, but I don't like the idea that you get ticketed for going to church but not for going to the bars," she explained. "I mean, what kind of people do we want here in town?"
City resident Gloria Maddage voiced a similar concern. She said she also sees favoritism in play with regards to the placement of the meters. She pointed out that restaurants and various other businesses have meters in front of them, yet the meter in front of the Manhattan Manor is not operational.
"Why is it that people who want to eat in town have to pay the meters, but people who want to go drinking in town and get drunk don't have to worry about them?" she asked. "I also don't think it's fair that certain businesses or establishments have meters while others don't."
"Is it because they are friends with the mayor?" she asked about the owners of the businesses that don't have them. "Because if that's the case, heck, I'll take him to dinner."
Maddage said she works three separate jobs in town, and sometimes she stops at one of her workplaces "literally for only two minutes" and has to feed a meter to do so.
"So I feel it's the person who pulls into that space when I leave who's actually benefiting, not me," she explained.
Meanwhile, it irks her that she doesn't see meters in front of certain structures, like the Shannon Building and North High Rise.
"I understand the reason for there being no meters at the high rise, because those people are on a fixed income," she offered. "But at the same time, you can't have a system where some people have to pay meters and some don't, some businesses do and others don't. That's just not fair."
Taylor insisted that the placement of the meters has absolutely nothing to do with favoritism. He said the city initially placed meters on the block of Salem Ave. where Manhattan Manor is located, but didn't collect hardly any money at all.
"For one thing, the Manhattan Manor doesn't open until 5 p.m., so it wouldn't even be affected by the meters," he pointed out, "and if you look at that whole block there's always parking available over there."
Consequently, he said the meters were moved to Lincoln Ave. where there is more traffic and a greater demand for parking space.
As for the Shannon Building, he said the blacktop along that block and the location of a vault there, with a furnace as well, prevents the city from drilling at that spot to install meters. However, he noted that funds may be available to address these issues from a state grant which was recently awarded to the city for the demolition of the Masonic Temple and other work in the North Main Street Corridor.
Page 3 of 3 - "There will ultimately be meters in every place possible once we get everything straightened out," Taylor assured.
In the meantime, Price reiterated that she's thankful for the parking logjam being broken up by the meters.
In fact, parking is now so much better downtown that many people have complained there are too many open spaces. They feel that the city has driven people away, and they wonder where all those vehicles which were previously parked throughout the downtown area have gone. Have they gone to other cities that are a little more welcoming, some have wondered, or simply found other parking spots in town and walk a little further to where they're going?
Taylor acknowledged that there are a lot more open parking spaces in town these days, but he said there are some good reasons for that.
"I absolutely agree that there's more parking," he noted, "but people have to realize that a lot of downtown business owners and employees were using those spaces before the meters were installed."
The same goes for the building he owns through his private development firm on North Main St., home of NHS Human Services of Northeastern Pa.
Indeed, when Price took her petition to City Council, she noted that the worst offenders when it came to downtown parking were the NHS employees. But Taylor said that is no longer the case.
"For the most part, they're now parking where they were supposed to be all along," he related, "in the lots which have been provided for them."
As far as where those people who were previously using all the downtown spots have gone, he said he has no idea.
"I've heard that Terrace Street has more vehicles parked there since the meters went in, but who knows?"
"The bottom line is that the meters are working," he argued. "The money we're making from them and the parking space that has been created downtown both show that. So they are serving the purpose we put them in for in the first place."