Free parking could go away at Butler County garage

Butler County officials say they are about two weeks away from making a final decision on automating their garage, but the commissioners say some other changes might be in order, such as parking fee hikes.

The proposed 2017 budget for what commissioners have dubbed their "Stone Age" garage was $192,494 against an expected $210,000 in revenues. Money for the potential automation project was not included in the spending plan. Administrator Charlie Young has remained mum as to what the chances for automating the structure are. He said a decision should be made in a couple weeks.

The five-story, 600-space garage at the corner of Court Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. currently operates as a cash-only, pay-at-the-gate facility. Proposals to automate the garage, making it more user friendly and allowing the ability to generate revenue from community events, were submitted earlier this year.

The equipment bids were in the neighborhood of $100,000 to $400,000, but Randy Quisenberry, the county’s asset and purchasing director, said the total budget is coming in at around $200,000.

When officials went out for bids on the per-transaction-fees they were looking at $50,000 extra.

“And that would have just thrown our budget, it would have tipped the scale on that budget to the wrong side,” Quisenberry told the Journal-News.

He said after many meetings and phone calls, transaction fees have been lowered to 7 cents per card swipe, which he said is manageable.

During budget hearings this week the commissioners didn’t discuss the automation issue but did talk money.

“I’d like to see some sort of recommendation on revenue enhancement suggestions for the garage,” Commissioner Don Dixon said. “Without putting debt in the facility.”

There are about 84 monthly parking passes that are free. Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said when the garage was opened in 1999 the committee in charge of the structure decided to provide a number of monthly cards to all the departments. Eliminating the free passes could save $40,320, but the commissioners didn’t make any moves in that direction.

Quisenberry said one of the automation proposals they received included a way to bar code the free vouchers so the commissioners can charge the parking back to the office holder who issued the voucher. Jurors for example get free parking vouchers.

Dixon said something as simple as turning off the new LED lights at night and on weekends when no one is around or using the garage could produce a savings.

Administrator Charlie Young said the daily parking rates — up to $6.5 for a whole day — have gone unchanged for a number of years but a couple years ago they raised the monthly rates for indoor parking went up $35 to $40. Parking on the top floor where there is no protection from the elements remained $35 monthly.

The commissioners also balked at the fact parkers who are in there less than a half hour get free parking.

“Tell me why we do that,” Dixon said. “Government has a way of just not caring about little things… When I go to Cincinnati I don’t get 30 minutes, I get an hour minimum.”

Quisenberry said he would tackle all of the commissioners’ suggestions.

“Very, very good points. The revenue, looking at the operations, the lighting in the evening, pricing, things have gone unchanged out there since ‘99,” Quisenberry said. “We’ll certainly put a strategic plan together.”

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