By Errol Castens
OXFORD – Visitors and residents in Oxford will likely find themselves swiping bank cards or pushing in quarters when they park downtown late this summer.
The city will move toward paid parking after the Downtown Parking Advisory Commission recommended Tuesday that the Board of Aldermen establish a paid parking system and a city parking department. They also agreed in principle to recommend a metered system rather than a kiosk payment system.
City officials agree that Standard Parking’s management, backed by heftier fines that can terminate in immobilization (booting) of vehicles, has increased turnover in storefront parking. Because revenue from fines has only been a small fraction of what Standard projected, however, they say the $200,000-plus annual cost of the contract is not sustainable.
Paid parking “is what we should have done three years ago, but the community wasn’t ready for it, and without a doubt now they are,” Patterson told members of the Downtown Parking Advisory Commission on Tuesday. “We’ve got to go to paid parking for a couple of reasons – one, to manage parking, and two, to generate a stream of revenue to build a parking garage.”
Downtown Oxford has about 300 on-street parking spaces around the Square and on North and South Lamar, Jackson Avenue and Van Buren Avenue, with several hundred more in off-street public lots.
“I know we need to go to paid parking for the 300 premium spaces we have,” Patterson said. “Whether we expand it later or not, that’s another decision.”
“My feeling is not to get too strict too quickly – have aspects that are going to be softer and more forgiving,” said commission member Mike Mitchell. “We need to accept that we’re selling parking now. You’ve always got the ability to tighten up (later).”
One vendor, IPS Group, supplied model parking meters so commission members could consider both their aesthetics and their practicality, although the purchase of meters will require an advertised Request for Proposals.
“We went with a metered system for a couple of reasons. The kiosk system is confusing, and cost is part of it,” Patterson said. “You’re looking at $500,000 to $600,000 for a kiosk system and under $1,000 each for meters.”
Bart Robinson, director of public works, said draft ordinances will be ready for the Board of Aldermen’s Jan. 21 meeting.
“Best case, we should be up and running by July 1,” he said. “August 1 is our drop-dead deadline.”