Butler County officials are contemplating coming out the “stone age” and automating the Government Services Center parking garage.
Today the 600-space garage is a cash-only-pay-at-the-gate operation, but the county commissioners asked Facilities Manager Mark Gadd to step up plans to modernize the garage and make it more user friendly. Commissioner Cindy Carpenter has been asking for an update for six years because she says the current system is “archaic.”
“One advantage of that, that I think makes it a viable project, is that we capture everyone that stays late when the gates are open, and we capture all the payments for community events in Hamilton,” she said. “Then it is a paying parking garage even when this building is closed.”
Gadd’s last estimate was for $80,000 from a couple years ago, when the commissioners asked him to look into it. He said the money wasn’t available to do the project then. He is getting updated figures, but said the level of sophistication will obviously impact the price.
The commissioners talked about a system that takes credit and debit cards and possibly a cellphone app to make payments. The 2016 budget has $126,713 pencilled in for parking garage employees and benefits and $205,000 in revenues.
If the garage goes fully automated, safety would be among some of the concerns.
Gadd said it probably isn’t a good idea to completely eliminate parking attendants.
“It depends on who you talk to, we certainly would like to keep them,” Gadd said. “We’d like to have that human element. If we went to a management company, they’ve agreed that you have have, because we’ve looked at all kinds of options, that they would like to have someone there in case of emergencies, to respond to the customer, to have the customer service level we feel is necessary. The question is how many staff members would be necessary.”
In the summer of 2013, the long-standing debate between the city of Hamilton and the county was settled when Hamilton officials terminated their lease for the once-shared garage. The city was responsible for the fourth and fifth floors of the structure and also collected about $72,000 annually from long-term rented spaces. There are a number of different parking arrangements at the garage, people can pay $40 a month for a reserved spot, jurors and law enforcement and fire officials from county jurisdictions and some others park for free.
Administrator Charlie Young said those parkers and people who want to pay with cash will all have to be taken into account.
“There’s a variety of accommodations we have to make because it’s not a huge garage, but there are a lot of different ways that facility is used,” Young said.
Tamara Sack, an attorney who is in court at the GSC all the time, said she and her fellow attorneys would be thrilled if the county follows through.
“I think that we should take advantage of all the technology, an app would be great…,” she said. “I’m all for technology, anything that will expedite the process. It’s a win-win for the people that will use it, and there are many people who will use it.”
Commissioners Don Dixon and T.C. Rogers concurred with Carpenter that it’s past time for the county to update that asset and make it more user friendly.
“You’re either going to be a leader and have the top technology, and people are going to want to use your garage, or you can stay back in the stone age,” Dixon said. “People will go out there and use their cellphone to pay it. We’ve got to move forward.”
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