City fees

Justification shaky for parking-meter increase, event cost decrease

Durango City Council approved a smattering of fee changes Tuesday that will make some people cringe and others thrilled, though not likely for the same reasons. The fees in question will affect what it costs motorists to park in the city’s metered spaces, as well as what special-events organizers must shell out to the city in order that their affair be approved. The latter went up; the former went down. Neither was fully or appropriately justified.

Parking meter fees will increase an average of 43 percent, maxing out at $1 an hour for what are now the 24-minute meters – soon to raise to a 30-minute maximum. The lion’s share of the meters – the three-hour variety both on and off Main Avenue – will jump in price from 60 to 75 cents an hour and 30 to 50 cents an hour, respectively. The city’s coveted 10-hour meters will see a 20-cent hourly increase to 50 cents an hour.

These bumps might seem to be chump change, but for those whose pockets are empty, they are not insignificant – nor is the resultant $9-and-up parking ticket that those without change can expect. Nevertheless, the increase could have been accepted as necessary but bitter medicine for downtown parkers to swallow, had it been sold as such. Instead, the city is offering the rather lame rationale that even with the increase, Durango’s parking rates are less than those in similar cities. By that logic, Durangoans should welcome a hypothetical industrial hog farm within city limits because other towns are home to leaky nuclear-waste facilities.

The second prong of the city’s argument for upping meter rates is that the revenue will pay for fancy new meters that accept credit cards and smartphones. Setting aside the rather circular logic of that argument, those same meters are so technologically advanced as not to accept a new payment after the maximum parking time has passed – until, that is, the car pulls away from the curb and resets the meter. Gone are the days of “paying it forward,” when a changeless driver in a hurry returns to his vehicle to find not an orange envelope but a fully paid meter, thanks to some kind soul. Or, more commonly, the leftover minutes that lucky drivers discover when pulling into a parking spot will be a thing of the past.

Durango could be better served by making “pay it forward” parking a local tradition. Being the town where everybody leaves a little something on the meter for the next guy might be a nice reputation to have. It would certainly be memorable.

Meanwhile, those looking to hold a special event downtown can look forward to reduced fees: for traffic control, staff time for setting fences and for free public transit. These fees dropped in response to complaints from organizers who, by and large, use their events to raise funds for some worthy cause and saw their bottom lines dented by the fee structure.

While that is certainly understandable from a fundraising perspective, it is not necessarily the city’s role to donate staff time, take a financial hit or compromise public safety so as to maximize an event’s earning potential. And, if the city was feeling generous, why was it so eager to nickel and dime its residents at the parking meter?