The Juneau Assembly decided against spending $50,000 on a new parking manager position last week, and there remains no concrete solution in sight.
The metered system currently in use downtown cost the city about $400,000 when the contract was signed in September of 2010 — installation of the meters took place in May of 2011 — but it has failed to work as advertised ever since. Users are supposed to pay for a number of hours of parking downtown by entering their car’s license plate number into one of several blue kiosks downtown when they park. That information should be instantly transferred to a central database and to handheld devices used by city employees to verify that cars parked downtown have paid.
The problem is the communication between the kiosks, database and handheld devices can be delayed by almost an hour, so it is impossible to tell if a car is over its time limit or not, said City Manager Kim Kiefer. As a result, the system cannot be adequately enforced.
Opponents shot down the effort for primarily two reasons: one, it was too expensive, and two, there was no certainty it would actually be a temporary position as billed.
Assemblyman Randy Wanamaker, one of the four who voted against the measure, said there was a downtown parking problem, but added that this solution wasn’t the right approach.
“They want to hire a parking manager to solve it,” Wanamaker said of the problem, “but city has a habit of creating temporary positions and then keeping them a long time — often, it becomes permanent.”
Responsibilities of the position would have included the budget and financial aspects of downtown parking, managing the contracts and facilities, coordinating with stakeholders and handling the administrative needs of everything related to downtown Juneau parking.
“There’s so much work to be done,” said Assemblyman Jesse Kiehl, who voted in favor of the position.
Currently, those duties are being shared by various city employees on an as-needed and as-available basis.
“We’re pulling that time away from other city functions,” Kiehl added. “We need, at least on temporary basis, someone to get that work done so we no longer have a dysfunctional system downtown.”
With the Assembly failing to approve the position, staff is now in the process of developing alternative solutions to propose to the Assembly sometime in November, Kiefer said.
“We need to come with a different plan to address it, because the issue hasn’t gone away,” she said.
One approach that is being looked into is a “pay-and-display” system that would still allow up to two hours of free parking downtown, but users would have to put a receipt from the kiosks on their dashboards, Kiefer said.
“Law enforcement officers cannot ethically or professionally give a ticket if they aren’t sure a violation has been committed,” she said.
Still, Wanamaker said the city does not need a full-fledged parking manager to do work that could be accomplished by a cheaper position — such as a $35,000-a-year parking coordinator.
“The proposal could have been approached differently, and I could have supported it,” he said.
Another idea that Wanamaker said he would have considered supporting was contracting the work out to one of Juneau’s retired police officers or other public servants with applicable experience.
“They were doing parking as part of their work before,” Wanamaker said. “They could be hired right away, and there would be no learning curve.”