Oxford panel balks on parking meter bids

town_oxford_greenBy Errol Castens

Daily Journal

OXFORD – The march toward parking meters took a detour Monday when Oxford’s Downtown Parking Commission declined to recommend any of the bids for meters and installation.

The lowest bidder was Bennett Construction, which offered to install some 300 meters within 90 days of acceptance for a total price of $114,000.

Mayor Pat Patterson and new Parking Director Matt Davis were at a parking conference, but Davis joined the commission by phone briefly.

“No offense to the folks investigating this, but there’s a lot of information we don’t have,” said Jeff Triplette, who will leave the commission this month after moving out of state. “If the (Board of Aldermen) wants to approve this bid, they have the right to do that, but I don’t feel comfortable recommending it without more information.”

Among unanswered questions were whether the city would benefit from vehicle detection devices, whether additional revenues from all-day parkers would offset the value of parking space turnover and how enforcement might differ on home football game days at the University of Mississippi.

Commissioners debated whether the city’s aim was simply to manage downtown parking or to generate revenue for a proposed garage. Some also questioned whether operating costs for the fee-based system for storefront parking would be any lower than the roughly $20,000 per month that the city’s contract with Standard Parking has cost.

Only a tiny fraction of the fine-based revenues Standard had projected has materialized, but turnover and open spaces at storefront locations have improved while moving downtown employees and long-term visitors to free, off-street parking.

Mike Harris, Ole Miss’ new parking director, said meters would encourage turnover of premium spaces more than a mere time limit. He noted that a sensor system would cancel any remaining paid-for time after each vehicle leaves, boosting revenues.

“It’ll also give you feedback to the handheld units and direct your enforcement people to those vehicles in violation,” Harris said.

Another item muddying the water was how cellular connections and credit/debit card fees would affect the bottom line.

“A reasonable starting point is to assume that we won’t save any money on operating costs, but we will have significantly greater revenues,” Chairman Tom Sharpe said.

The bid on will be on the agenda at today’s 5 p.m. meeting of the Board of Aldermen.

errol.castens@journalinc.com