Paid parking on Broad Street won’t be among the recommendations an advisory committee brings to the Board of Aldermen at its Nov. 21 meeting.
The Downtown Parking Advisory Committee also decided not to meddle with current parking rules on Broad Street, New Street, Hancock Street and Metcalf Street.
Both proposals were among several contained in a draft list of recommendations that came before the committee on Tuesday. The committee will finalize its plan on Tuesday, Nov. 14, before bringing its recommendations to the Board of Aldermen on Tuesday, Nov. 21.
The committee will likely proceed with its recommendation to start enforcing 2-hour parking limits in the core of Downtown New Bern and call for improved directional signage to get motorists to city parking lots at the Farmers Market on South Front Street and at the intersection of New and Middle streets, among others.
The two-hour parking limit would be in effect from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, excluding holidays. The purpose of the limit is to discourage downtown workers from using on-street parking and instead use city off-street parking. It is estimated that 300-400 on-street parking spaces downtown are being used by people who work downtown each weekday, in an area where there are only 464 on-street parking spaces.
Studies of downtown parking in New Bern report that employee-used on-street parking is costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost sales each year from motorists leaving the downtown discouraged over a shortage of parking.
The two-hour enforcement brings its own set of complications, namely enforcement. New Bern Police Chief Toussaint Summers, when asked about the chances of having parking enforcement officers ready starting on Jan. 1, 2018, formed a zero with his thumb and index finger.
He recommended the city hire up to three officers, plus a supervisor, to enforce parking downtown and also serve as community resource officers, much like those stationed at local schools, to enhance law enforcement downtown, develop good community-police relations, and adequately deal with parking enforcement.
It would take as long as four months to recruit, hire police officers to fill the positions once they are approved by the Board of Aldermen, and then six months more to receive field training and equip them.
It is possible that he could backfill the downtown positions with current police staff — the department has just one vacancy, the lowest vacancy rate since he became chief in 2011 (just to compare, Wilson’s police department has 16 vacancies and Kinston’s has 10). But Chief Summers said he would prefer to use his officers on the force now to fight drug use and sales in the city.
A suggestion by City Manager Mark Stephens that parking enforcement could be contracted out to a private firm was generally rejected by the committee.
Said committee member Danny Batten, “This is more than a financial decision. If we bring in contractors, who knows how they’ll treat our visitors, or how they’ll treat our business owners. I see value in having community resource officers.”
Rather than work out the details about enforcement, the committee decided it would simply recommend that 2-hour parking be enforced, and leave it to the Board of Aldermen and city staff to work out the details.
There would be a phase-in period once the 2-hour limit is enforced, during which motorists would receive a warning rather than a ticket.
The committee may also recommend the fine for a parking ticket be increased from $5 to $25, which would double if it isn’t paid after 30 days.