Oxford panel backs off paid parking, eyes stricter enforcement

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – After city officials asked for a Plan B for managing parking in Oxford’s central business district, the Downtown Parking Advisory Commission is focusing on enforcement of time limits in storefront spaces.
Volunteer commissioners have for more than two years sought solutions to the difficulty of parking downtown during traffic peaks surrounding lunch, supper and late-night bar hours. Their most detailed proposal had recommended hiring Standard Parking to manage paid storefront parking, using a helpful “ambassadorial” approach toward drivers.
Even so, many business owners have voiced opposition to charging $1 per hour, prompting a weakening of support among some aldermen.
“The paid parking hit a roadblock,” City Planner Tim Akers told commission members Friday.
“Plan B” still recommends a management contract with Standard Parking. It aims to keep prime spaces turning over with stricter enforcement and license-plate recognition technology.
Current fines for parking more than two hours on the Square or nearby streets are $5 for the first violation in a 12-month period, with subsequent violations costing $10, $25 and $50.
Parking Commission Chairman Jeff Triplette said that if streetside parking remains free, only serious penalties can change driving habits that now leave the city with a folder thick with unpaid parking tickets.
Commissioners voted Friday to recommend that the first violation be free, with a second one $10, a third $25 and $75 the next time, with substantial penalties added to unpaid fines. Thereafter, under the proposal, vehicles will be “booted” – immobilized – until all fines and penalties are paid.
Given that paid parking was rejected because of fears it would turn away diners, shoppers and visitors, Parking Commission Chairman Jeff Triplette doubted that stricter enforcement and higher fines would make them feel more welcome.
“What they’ll really get excited about is when their car is booted. That’s where the folks will get upset,” he said.
Akers added, “But this is what we heard from the board.”
In a separate meeting Friday, Mayor Pat Patterson reminded aldermen that the parking problem only gets worse with growth.
“You might as well get ready for it,” he said. “If you want to solve this problem, you’re going to have to hire some help.”
errol.castens@journalinc.com