Huge jump in Amherst parking permit fees on table

  • A view of Main Street in downtown Amherst. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/26/2022 3:16:31 PM

AMHERST — Fees for municipal parking permits may increase for the first time in more than 20 years, while more signs directing people to town lots could soon be installed, as part of a series of recommendations being examined by the Town Council.

Finance Director Sean Mangano told the Town Council on Monday that the priority staff recommendations, with Treasurer/Collector Jennifer LaFountain taking the lead role, is to increase support for the town’s transportation enterprise fund, which normally takes in more than $1 million in a year but which has been sliced in half over the course of the pandemic.

The recommendations are based on advice from the Downtown Parking Working Group and key strategies endorsed by the Community Resources Committee two years ago. Another goal of the working group — having a full-time parking management position — is being precluded by the toll taken on the enterprise fund, which is fed by parking permits, revenue from meters and parking kiosks, and tickets for violations.

Raising parking permit fees is the main recommendation, Mangano said. “There would be an increase over three years to reflect the value the permit provides,” Mangano said.

For residential permits for Amherst residents, the price would go from the current $25 to $150 in fiscal year 2025, while non-Amherst residents would see the permit price jump from $25 to $400 over that same time period.

Employee permit fees would rise from $25 to $50, and reserved spots in the Boltwood garage would go from $1,000 to $1,250.

A memo from Mangano, LaFountain and Town Manager Paul Bockelman explained that the need is to increase money for the transportation fund. “One goal of these changes is to generate sufficient revenue to build a dynamic and proactive transportation enterprise fund,” the memo reads. “The fund has insufficient financial ability to... fund capital improvements.”

If enough money is raised for various capital improvements over the next three years, one consideration would be to replace all on-street meters with parking kiosks, Mangano said. This would allow a system like in Northampton, where technology can communicate to people coming into downtown the number of spaces that are available.

Mangano said Amherst officials want to distinguish between vehicles registered in town and those registered elsewhere. Amherst’s excise tax collection is lower than similar-size communities, with $1.7 million coming in during 2020, whereas Fitchburg, with only slightly more residents, brought in $4.1 million.

If the plan is enacted, money collected from the parking permit fees would rise from $39,925 to $155,350.

There is also a need for more visible and consistent signs directing people to parking spaces.

“We’d like to get this all done in 2022, if possible,” Mangano said.

Mangano said the town has already made changes to the website to be more welcoming and friendly, rather than highlighting how to pay parking tickets.

The Town Services and Outreach Committee will examine the parking permit fee changes at coming meetings, with a report due back to the Town Council by March 7.

District 1 Councilor Cathy Schoen said she would like to see the town make fees high enough to encourage those affiliated with the University of Massachusetts to use its lots to house their cars, rather than downtown streets.

Council President Lynn Griesemer said the discussion about parking changes is the beginning of a large and complex topic with many moving parts.


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