downtown long-term parking fees

On December 20, 2011, the city council unanimously approved a new ordinance creating a $10 monthly fee (paid 12 months at a time) for long-term parking downtown. This was not a flippant decision. It was done as part of a $50 million budget, as a way to generate about $18,000 in annual revenue.

In January 2012, the De Pere Police Department notified affected residents and businesses of the new rules. As a result, dozens of residents and business owners turned out at the January 17 city council meeting to object to the new fee. Council members then apologized, saying that the fee was a single line item in a very complex budget. They pledged to repeal the new ordinance at their next meeting, and they did just that on February 7.

So it’s a done deal. The ordinance was passed, citizens spoke out, and the ordinance was repealed. But what have we learned? What should have happened?

The first thing to realize is that the 2012 budget was a tough one. City staff was given a directive to come up with ideas to cut costs and increase revenue. The parking fee was one such idea. After all, charging for long-term parking in a city lot is not such an outrageous idea. It’s done in municipalities everywhere, including Green Bay. And while $18,000 sure doesn’t sound like much in a $15 million budget, those are the kinds of things that make up a budget. Stack up a few such line items and pretty soon you’re in six figures and making a difference. So I don’t fault city staff or the council for suggesting it (or passing it).

Second, the city should have made some kind of communication to the affected residents and businesses when the idea was proposed. If they had done so, citizens would have the chance to offer their feedback before it was enacted.

Third, the De Pere Chamber of Commerce should have also notified their member businesses in a timely manner. This is the kind of service that a business should expect in return for their membership fees. Not all business owners read the agendas of every city meeting, and that’s where the chamber should have stepped in. I do give credit to Cheryl Detrick, president of the chamber. She spoke at the January 3 city council meeting, apologized for not catching this sooner, and acknowledged that if she had, we could have prevented many of the complaints.

Last, and I think this is most important, people need to pay attention to city happenings. Generally speaking, citizens and business owners in the community are not involved enough. This ordinance did not happen overnight. It happened over the course of a couple of months. Agendas for city meetings are posted on the city web site, so residents and business owners need to take some responsibility here. You don’t have to attend meetings. You don’t even have to read every agenda for every meeting. Just pay attention once in a while. It would have only taken a couple of concerned people noticing this, and word would have spread.

You can also receive e-mail notifications when new agendas are posted. This is how I’m notified.

So, this issue is behind us. All parties involved apologized and made it right. Lesson learned.

Please contact me and let me know how you feel.