Plug the meter

Expanding paid parking in Penticton could raise more than $800,000 for the municipality, according to a staff report going in front of council Tuesday.

Public sentiment ran strong against the expansion of paid parking in Penticton three years ago when council last studied the concept, but city officials are wondering now if residents’ might warm to the idea as a revenue source for the municipality in the COVID-19 era.

“With the immediate impacts of COVID-19 highlighting the underlying vulnerabilities of the city’s revenue stream, the expansion of the user pay for parking program could be a way to manage a valuable city asset more equitably and responsibly and help make the city’s revenue stream more sustainable,” Blake Laven, the city’s director of development services, writes in a report going in front of council Tuesday.

“As such, staff are recommending exploring a user pay approach to parking with the expansion of the metered parking program throughout the downtown and into busy recreational areas.”

The results of that exploration, combined with data from a parallel public engagement process, would then be presented to council in time for staff to incorporate any changes into 2021 work plans.

There are five areas staff is targeting for paid parking:

- Downtown: All of Main Street is free, yet it costs to park on less-busy streets like White Avenue. “While there are historic and symbolic reasons this parking approach has evolved this way, having a more blanket approach of charging for parking on all streets would be a fairer approach,” writes Laven. Potential revenue: $300,000.

- Lakeshore Drive and Okanagan Lake parking lots: “One of the challenges with implementing pay parking in his area… is the seasonal nature of the usage,” says Laven. Potential revenue: $250,000.

- Skaha Lake Park: Currently only boat trailers are charged for parking in the 300-plus stalls in and around the park. Potential revenue: $125,000.

- South Okanagan Events Centre complex: A 2018 study recommended the city charge for parking at the SOEC to curb demand and traffic issues. However, “Event parking is handled by Spectra management and would override the city’s pay parking program,” notes Laven. Potential revenue: $150,000.

- Residents-only parking program: An existing patchwork covers parts of downtown and near the hospital. Program costs $14,500 to administer and generates no revenue. Charging drivers $30 for a permit would cover costs. More areas likely to be added to program. Potential revenue: $15,000.

Adopting all five measures would produce estimated total revenue of $840,000, but require $390,000 in capital expenditures for equipment and signs, plus the creation of two new jobs. The city currently collects approximately $500,000 per year in parking revenue.

Laven’s report notes the city is dealing with an expected $3.9-million revenue shortfall for 2020, and probably at least as much in 2021.

“As a result of these shortfalls and additional costs incurred as a result of the pandemic, city staff have been looking at ways to increase revenue opportunities to support long-term operational funding,” he writes.

In a related report, finance manager Jim Bauer indicates the largest source of lost revenue is an estimated $1.5 million the city was expecting in the form of a host local government grant representing its cut of the action at the now-closed Cascades Casino. Other major losses include $1.2 million from recreation program revenue and $400,000 from parking.

Bauer’s report explains, however, that the city has already made cuts to offset the lost $3.9 million.