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Keene considers increase in parking rates

Parking meters line Main Street in downtown Keene, as seen in October 2021.
File photo by Hannah Schroeder / Sentinel Staff
Parking meters line Main Street in downtown Keene, as seen in October 2021.

This article is being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. It was first published in the Keene Sentinel. For more information visitcollaborativenh.org. 

Higher metered parking rates and ticket fees could be in downtown Keene's future. But a new skate park at 160 Water St. — a different location than previously planned — seems all but certain.

At their meeting Thursday,city councilors viewed a memorandum from Chelsea North, city parking operations manager, proposing a 15-cent hourly increase in on- and off-street parking. Under the proposal, on-street parking would rise from 85 cents per hour to a dollar, while off-street or lot parking-meter rates would increase from 35 cents to 50 cents.

The proposal also calls for bumping up ticket fees by $5. Currently, most parking violations result in a $10 ticket, with some triggering a $15 ticket. Those would now be $15 and $20, respectively. After 30 days, if unpaid, those ticket fees would double, and then would double once again after 60 days.

According to the agenda packet for Thursday’s meeting, raising rates is necessary to finance the maintenance and operation of the parking system and generate revenue for the parking fund, which pays for the “beautification of the downtown area.” This includes amenities such as landscaping and lighting. Income for the parking fund comes from hourly metered parking, quarterly permits, ticket payments and parking space rentals.

“There is a symbiotic relationship between the aesthetics of the downtown area and the ability to attract residents and visitors, as well as a business’ ability to attract and retain workers,” North wrote in the memo.

In 2020, she explained, the parking fund operated on a lean budget due to decreased public parking during the peak of the pandemic. According to Keene’s budget book, for the 2019-20 fiscal year, the parking fund was running on a $1.7 million revenue budget which dropped to about $1.3 million for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

Demand for parking in areas near Main Street and Central Square has since returned to pre-pandemic levels, often exceeding 90 percent of supply. And despite the increased usage, the fund has strained to keep up with expenses and threatens to go negative in the future, the agenda packet states. According to the current fiscal year budget, which went into effect at the start of July, the parking fund has a budget of $1,995,246.

The last time meter rates were changed was in 2018, according to North, when on-street parking increased 10 cents, from 75 cents per hour to 85 cents, and off-street parking rates went from 30 cents to 35 cents.

North's memo to councilors also notes that several other nearby communities, including Brattleboro, Concord, Durham and Portsmouth, charge at least a dollar per hour for on-street parking. Manchester's hourly rates for both on-street and off-street parking are 75 cents. Concord's on-street rates range from 50 cents to a dollar, and off-street parking costs 50 cents.

Thursday's meeting represented the first reading of an ordinance that would change the rates. If the proposal receives the Finance, Organization and Personnel Committee's recommendation next month, it would return to City Council for a second reading and final vote.

New skate park location

Also Thursday, the City Council approved a $225,000 design and build services contract for a new skate park. City Manager Elizabeth Dragon announced the skating facility will be built at the former Findings property on Water Street, previously owned by Growers Outlet LLC.

Previously, the city had intended to construct the new facility at the current skate-park site on Gilbo Avenue.

Parks, Recreation and Facilities Director Andy Bohannon said the Water Street property will be able to accommodate a 15,000-square-foot skate park, and the proximity to the adjacent Russell Park could promote more activity and foot traffic.

The city has executed a purchase and sales agreement for a land swap, according to Dragon, with Keene taking the parcel near Russell Park, and Growers Outlet getting the current skate-park property on Gilbo Avenue.

A week ago, the city announced construction on the new skate park could begin in spring 2023, but at that time said it was planned for the current site on Gilbo Avenue. There was no discussion Thursday on how long it would take, or what it will cost the city, to clear the Water Street site.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visitcollaborativenh.org. 

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