Pay to park now or pay later: Taxpayers could foot the bill for downtown parking

Wednesday, November 6, 2019
News 12 at 6 o'clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- New details have surfaced about downtown Augusta parking. If the city doesn't make enough money on charging you to park, the city will owe the private company money.

The taxpayer will end up paying for it.

Perhaps it’s time to face the music that plans for paid parking won’t be pumping its breaks.

Michael Weldon, a downtown business owner, knows a lot about music some would call him an expert in the classics.

"We've had the psychotronic store here now for about 8 years," said Weldon.

Although he's no expert in paid parking over the years, he's watched downtown businesses fade to empty storefronts.

"It’s not a good idea to have parking meters, especially at this point in time," said Weldon.

Installing about 70 meters across downtown will cost around $575,000. The annual maintenance fee for them is nearly $800,000.

According to SP Plus, the company in charge of it all, the city would pay that back as it rakes in money from charging you to park.

"Ya, we end up paying for everything," said Travis Boyd, who works downtown.

Travis Boyd isn't wrong. The parking company projects Augusta could bring in $1.3 million in its first year alone. But if it doesn't the city, likely meaning the taxpayer, still owes those installation and maintenance costs for the meters. This is something commissioners only found out about this Tuesday.

"I’m interested to see how it turns out. I think the people that want to still find free parking will find a way to park on the side streets and may have to walk the extra bit," said Eva Claire Schwartz, who lives downtown.

SP Plus says its projected revenue data is based on the worst-case scenario, estimating if only 30% of parking spaces get filled next year.

Some fear even the 30% threshold may be hard to meet when parking is no longer free. Once some commissioners found out about the potential debt, they wanted to slow the process down.

SP Plus told leaders part of the fees could be collected across 5 years. The city will outline contract terms with the company at the next commission meeting.

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