MERIDEN — A union representing city parking attendants says it plans to fight the city manager’s proposal to replace attendants with an automated system.
City Manager Tim Coon’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year recommends cutting seven part-time parking attendant positions and switching to an automated “pay-by-plate” kiosk system at the municipal garage on Church Street and the city-owned lot on Butler Street.
Coon said the automated system will save the city about $80,000 annually. Motorists would pay and enter their license plate information at an electronic kiosk, which police would monitor and enforce. It’s unclear how much it will cost to install and maintain the automated system. If the plan is approved by the City Council, a request for proposals would go out later this year.
Linda Ceneviva, president of the city’s crossing guard and parking attendant union, said the move would effectively lay off three attendants. The city has not employed more than five attendants at any time, even though the budget allows for seven, according to Ceneviva.
“We’re going to try to fight this as much as we can because we think it's detrimental” to the downtown area and the employees, Ceneviva said.
More and more municipalities have implemented an automated system in recent years, including Middletown, West Hartford, and New Haven, according to Coon.
“The new system makes more sense technology-wise and it’s fairly straightforward to use,” said David Cooley, business recruitment specialist for the Making Meriden Business Center.
The proposal is part of a larger effort to make downtown parking more user-friendly, including a recently formed task force.
“We want it to be easy to understand and we want everyone to understand that it’s available,” Public Works Director Howard Weissberg said. “One of the misconceptions is that there's no parking downtown, and we have to overcome that.”
The task force, which held its first meeting on March 29, consists of representatives from various city departments and offices, including public works, police, the city manager’s office, and the mayor’s office.
Weissberg said the city is looking to install more signs directing motorists to public parking. City officials are also looking at establishing uniform time limits for on-street parking and fee structures for public lots.
The garage on Church Street charges $2 per hour and $10 per day to park on weekdays 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The Butler Street lot also charges $2 per hour with a $10 daily maximum during business hours on weekdays but allows free parking for the first two hours with participating merchant validation. The state Department of Transportation Commuter Rail lot at 24 Colony St. allows motorists to park free for the first two hours, after which there is a flat $7 fee.
Weissberg said the parking task force plans to meet one more time before making recommendations to the Parking Commission. Weissberg anticipates changes will be implemented this summer. Coon said automated kiosks could be installed late this year or early next year.
The goal, Weissberg said, is to have the changes in place before the city converts several one-way downtown streets to two-way traffic, including Cook Avenue between Hanover and West Main streets; Hanover Street between Cook Avenue and South Grove Street; Butler Street and South Grove Street between West Main and Hanover, Church Street between Colony and Barristers Court, and Pratt Street at East Main.