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FORT SMITH — City directors have passed the first reading of an ordinance to increase parking meter rates downtown in an effort to raise more money for meter and parking garage expenses and to replace current meters with smart meters.

The ordinance passed 4-3 at Tuesday night’s meeting, with City Directors George Catsavis, Kevin Settle and Don Hutchings voting against it.

Settle and Hutchings expressed concern about the rate increase before the vote. Hutchings said the city was asking for new fees and taxes from the people seemingly every month.

Settle said officials should explore ways to raise more revenue without raising meter fees. He suggested extending the hours motorists pay for parking, like from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., or charging for parking on weekends. Currently, the city charges for parking from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.

The ordinance raises the meter rate for the 267 meters on downtown’s main street, Garrison Avenue, from 25 cents an hour to 50 cents an hour.

For the 168 meters on Rogers Avenue, downtown side streets and on a 55-space lot at Eighth Street and Rogers Avenue, the cost will go from 25 cents for an hour to 25 cents for 40 minutes. Fifty cents will buy 90 minutes.

The initial fine also would double to $10 and must be paid by 6 p.m. the day after the violation, according to the ordinance. If not, fines will rise incrementally to $25 if the ticket is not paid within 15 days of the violation.

In addition to raising parking meter fees, the city is making other changes to the parking operation.

An automated parking gate at the entrance to the three-level parking garage will cost an estimated $10,000 to install. The gate will allow the city to eliminate two attendant positions.

One of the two attendant positions also is being cut.

Rates for the 435 parking meters downtown have remained at 25 cents an hour since 1985. City directors proposed raising them in October but tabled consideration of an ordinance to get feedback from residents and downtown businesses.

City Administrator Carl Geffken reported to city directors a consensus of the Central Business Improvement District board favored raising parking meter rates to generate more revenue to recover the cost of the new meters and continue to build on the parking fund for maintenance and support of the city’s parking garage.

The Downtown Merchants Association also favored raising meter fees as long as meters were updated to accept credit and debit cards and smart phone apps, Geffken told city directors.

Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman has said it was unclear what features the city would be able to include in new meters. He said city officials estimated the new meters would cost about $500 each, or $217,500 for 435 meters.

Downtown merchants opposed a proposal by the city to charge for parking at the 172-space parking lot on Second Street. Others also have voiced opposition to a charge for parking in the Second Street lot, where the city’s farmers market is held.

“The Second Street parking lot shall be free of charge,” said a line in the ordinance the city directors voted on Tuesday.

Merchants wanted the increase in parking meter rates to maintain the turnover of customers downtown. Some downtown merchants asked if they could lease spaces for their customers or employees. The ordinance passed Tuesday did not address that issue.

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