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Councilman says charging more for downtown parking sends wrong message

Published: Monday, June 11 2012 10:01 p.m. MDT

Vehicles are parked in downtown Salt Lake City Monday, June 11, 2012. Salt Lake City Councilman Charlie Luke plans to make a proposal at Tuesday's meeting to keep the metered parking rate at $1.50 per hour and not charge for parking after 6 p.m. Luke says property tax projections are high enough that the changes proposed by Mayor Ralph Becker aren't needed.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Charlie Luke said Salt Lake City doesn't need to charge more for on-street parking downtown and would be sending the wrong message to visitors and shoppers by doing so.

"I think people have gotten out of the habit of coming downtown to shop," the Salt Lake City councilman said. "We need to focus on bringing people back."

Luke said he is opposed to Mayor Ralph Becker's plans to increase the cost for metered parking by 50 cents per hour, with would bring the hourly rate to $2. He's also opposed to changing the time for meter enforcement from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

But the proposed fee increases and added enforcement of metered parking during the evening would generate nearly $1.6 million in additional revenue in fiscal year 2013, city officials said.

During a City Council discussion last week, council members appeared to favor the hourly rate increase, though they preferred extending parking enforcement to 8 p.m. rather than 10 p.m. Free parking on Saturdays and during the holiday shopping season also are on the chopping block.

Luke said he plans to present to the City Council a counter-proposal Tuesday to keep metered parking rates at $1.50 per hour and free after 6 p.m. weekdays, all day on weekends and during the holidays.

"I imagine there will be a fairly lively discussion about it," he said.

Luke said recent property tax revenue projections came back higher than expected, and that that money could offset the revenue that would come from increased parking fees.

"I will be doing everything in my power to keep (parking fees and hours) as they currently stand," he said.

David Everitt, Becker's chief of staff, has said the proposed fee increases are not just about revenue. The goal is to change the culture of downtown parking, encouraging people to use metered spots for short stays and parking garages for longer visits.

No matter the intention, Luke said there's a public perception that parking in Salt Lake City is expensive and difficult. The proposed fee increases and later hours of enforcement will feed into that belief, he said.

"We need to be working to change that perception rather than giving the impression we're going to nickel and dime everybody who comes to Salt Lake," Luke said.

The councilman also took issue with the fee increases being proposed as part of the mayor's budget, forcing the City Council to either approve the changes or find money elsewhere to replace the projected revenue.

"I was not comfortable with that process," he said, "especially if we're talking about it not being a revenue issue. It certainly seems to be more of a revenue issue."

E-mail: jpage@desnews.com

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