Select Board discusses parking meter options

By William Perkins

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A number of updates and improvements could soon be coming to Amherst’s parking display machines.

Last night, members of the town’s Select Board were presented with a proposal that would replace the 12-year-old pay-and-display machines at many of the town’s parking lots with new machines that would take several forms of payments not presently offered.

Town Manager John Musante presented the proposal to board members, saying the main goal of the proposition is to help to improve visitors’ experiences in downtown Amherst.

“Our goals … came down to making the downtown area more attractive to visit,” said Musante, who noted the proposal was put together with input from an ad-hoc committee that consisted of community members.

“The basic recommendation [of the proposal] is to replace what are called our pay-and-display machines by pay-by-space [ones],” Musante added.

The new machines – which, if approved, would be implemented at different locations in different phases – would help to encourage new forms of technology for paying for parking fares, Musante said. They would accept credit and debit cards, in addition to change, as forms of payment, and would also allow people to pay their fees through cell phones.

“You’ll have more ways to pay for your parking – more convenient ways,” Musante said.

Those who park would no longer have to place paper receipts in their vehicles and would also be able to pay their fares at any location, if the new machines were installed, Musante said.

If the proposal were given the go-ahead, the new machines would be phased in this spring at the Boltwood Garage parking lot, the town hall parking lot, the Amity Street parking lot and the parking lot near CVS on North Pleasant Street. An additional phase, which would occur sometime in the next fiscal year, would implement the machines at locations on both Main and Spring Street. And another phase, which would likely occur during the 2013 fiscal year, would replace the machines at the Pray Street parking lot, and would also possibly replace some street meters.

The town currently has $94,000 in available funds that it could pay for the first phase implementations with. An additional $37,000 would have to be added to the 2012 fiscal year budget to pay for credit card transaction and secure network fees from the machines. And it would also cost the town approximately $30,000 to implement the second phase of machines.

The town would also have to place pavement or post markers that would identify the various parking spots at the parking lots if the changes take place.

Additionally, if the parking changes were to take place, fees would be increased at street meters from 40 to 50 cents per hour, while they would continue to be 50 cents per hour at the machines. And the cost to lease a reserved space at the Boltwood Garage would increase from $650 to $750 each year, while the yearly permit-parking fee would be set at $25.

The newly proposed measures sparked a bit of discussion between Select Board members last night, and also drew reaction from Tony Maroulis, the executive director of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce.

“I think we’re going a long way with this plan to get parking right in this town,” said Maroulis, who added that the new system “really will improve the visitor’s experience to a great degree.”

While there were concerns raised about intricacies of the proposal by some Select Board members, it was determined that they would hold off on making a decision on the matter until their March 21 meeting.

Elsewhere last night, Musante briefed members on a preliminary proposal to convert an old landfill on Route 9 into a solar panel site. The proposal could markedly improve the town’s environmental standing, and Musante said he would have more information on it in a few days. Members last night also discussed the upcoming town budget.

William Perkins can be reached at [email protected]