Budget puts premium on revitalization efforts

Parking revenue will be pivotal in city's plans for improvements

  • Jan. 17, 2012 6:00 p.m.

If revitalization is a vaccine, then downtown Penticton and the city’s two lakefronts may be due for big booster shots this year.

City staff presented a wide-sweeping revitalization plan for three areas of Penticton to be included for discussion in the 2012 capital plan, which saw council’s support on moving forward with consultation on how to inoculate the downtown, Okanagan Lake waterfront and Skaha Lake waterfront from looking rough to visitors.

Chief financial officer Doug Leahy indicated to council Tuesday that council decided in December that revitalization of those areas were top of mind for 2012.

“Our whole capital budget is focused on our strategic priorities,” he said. “It’s a very aggressive work plan and it’s going to take a committed work team to get this done.”

Mayor Dan Ashton said that time was of the essence as they head into the busy summer season.

“We heard from the community that this is a tourist area,” he said. “Come this summer, we’re inviting the world.”

The downtown revitalization plan calls for a portion of the $477,000 in improvements for 2012, including Main Street planter removal (completing a project started last year), consultation and planning, a parking strategy and improvements to Gyro Park.

Several aspects of Penticton waterfronts are also included in the capital plan, for a total of $3 million. Okanagan Lake priorities include Kiwanis walking pier repairs; the promenade (depending on grants); Lakeshore Drive design, consultation and traffic patterns; park vendor improvements; and improvements to the SS Sicamous, which is in need of repairs for issues like a leaky roof.

Council unanimously approved that the consultation process for those projects move ahead, although the capital expenditures will be put to a vote at a later date.

Giving the community a chance to provide suggestions was key, Ashton added.

“Stakeholder input is going to be critical,” he said, adding he hopes the conversations draw on work previously conducted. “The city has a lot of info on file, and I hope we dust it off a little bit.”

One new idea pitched is using parking revenue as a key component to the city’s strategy to fund the revitalization. During capital budget presentations Tuesday, planner Jake Belobaba introduced the proposed digital meter system to bolster capacity to generate parking revenue.

Belobaba explained the new system would offer the city, residents, business and visitors more flexibility. New technology offers several features: parking fees and fines could be paid at any meter with a smart credit card, cash or cellphone. Full meters would send a signal directly to City Hall that they need to be emptied, rather than calling on bylaw officers to spend a large part of their time checking all meters.

Parking enforcement would also be run through a system employing a vehicle’s licence plates, which could highlight repeat offenders and allow easy billing for unpaid fines.

Belobaba noted that the system would help the city control spillover from the prime parking spots in the downtown and lakeshore areas into residential. The first phase of changing over the meters and implementing the rates would be initiated between 2012 and 2013, primarily in the downtown, Okanagan Lake waterfront and control areas to the west and east of a yet-to-be-defined downtown core, to the tune of $146,454. The second phase, proposed for 2013 to 2014, would surround Skaha Lake waterfront and a control area to the north of the water, as well as additional expansion to the Okanagan Lake parking areas. The second phase is budgeted at an estimated $263,148.

Coun. Andrew Jakubeit expressed concern about losing the one-hour free granted to downtown business owners that want to entice customers to the area. Belobaba explained adding the one-hour would still be in effect, and a voucher system could be offered by businesses, allowing them to give parking credits remotely to their customers’ vehicles.

Strategic pricing would also play a part in the funding scheme. Proposed parking rates for the downtown and lakeshore areas could remain $1 per hour, with rates scaled back to 50 cents an hour in the downtown periphery areas. Rates for those areas and the additional control area could be set through discussions with stakeholder groups.

“We have the advantage of letting them be the planners,” Belobaba said.

He explained residents living in control areas would likely receive free parking through a placard or decal from City Hall, or licence plates could be registered in the system.

One hundred per cent of revenues would be directed to the revitalization projects, and Coun. Wes Hopkin suggested separate reserve accounts be created for the respective areas to ensure transparency that the money was not going into general revenue.

Coun. Garry Litke said he hopes the public remembers that $250,000 in capital city spending can result in a one per cent tax increase. “We can either raise taxes by four per cent or raise $1 million,” he said.

Belobaba recognized, however, that adding paid parking does have a backlash effect: some people may choose not to park in those areas to avoid costs. That means the city could see a drop in parking revenue initially, but anticipations are that in three years the new technology will pay for itself and generate revenues.

“I’m not opposed to this conversation happening,” Coun. Judy Sentes said, adding that she wanted to know the difference between the worst- and best-case scenarios for revenue.

Belobaba said the city’s parking utilization rates currently sit at approximately 50 per cent occupancy during peak periods. Assuming a worst-case scenario in the first five years, the downtown parking revenue could be $176,193 in the first five years, a loss of $56,057 for Okanagan Lake and $38,027 loss at Skaha Lake.

After the five-year mark and the public adjusts to changes, all areas would be generating surplus revenue even in a worst-case scenario. Belobaba added the figures are extremely conservative: they assume only one stall out of every 10 would be occupied. “That’s about as conservative as you get,” Belobaba said.

Best-case scenarios have revenue parking at $1.28 million in the downtown area, $156,352 at Okanagan Lake and $165,368 at Skaha. “I would not be shocked to see if we were wrong and the dollar numbers higher than we projected,” he said.

Coun. John Vassilaki said that he was a believer in the user-pay system, but said the city has to communicate how valuable shopping in the downtown is to residents in light of the changes.

“The problem we have had in the past is we get complaints from citizens because they don’t want to shop downtown because of the pay parking,” he said. “They believe the mall is free, but if they look at the bill, they would see they pay 10 to 15 per cent more than they would downtown.”

Council unanimously approved a staff direction to investigate a new digital meter parking strategy that would come in two phases.