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    Parking fee increase considered

    The city wants to use the money to expand parking on the beach and downtown.

    By CHRISTINA HEADRICK

    © St. Petersburg Times, published November 14, 2000


    CLEARWATER -- The city is planning to raise parking rates on Clearwater Beach and downtown, effective New Year's Day, to help finance new public parking garages someday in both areas.

    The City Commission spent part of its Monday workshop discussing the idea, which would mainly affect the beach. Although the city's staff has the authority to increase the rates on its own, interim City Manager Bill Horne is seeking the commission's blessing.

    Commissioners will debate the proposal again in December.

    The new downtown rates wouldn't affect parking meters there. But monthly parking permit prices would be increased to $20 from $15. Parking fees for city garages would be increased to $40 from $35 monthly.

    At the beach, increases in hourly rates would apply only on Saturdays and Sundays for most of the year. During March and April, the city's peak spring break period, when beach lots are fullest, the new rate would be in effect every day.

    During these peak times, the new hourly rates would be $1 or $1.25, depending on the distance from the sand. Rates now are 75 cents or $1 hourly.

    The city's three beach lots attended by a cashier also would cost more during these busy periods. The hourly rate would be raised from $1.50 hourly to $2, although the daily maximum would remain $10.

    The parking price increases would generate up to $378,000 yearly in new city revenues, said Tracey Bruch, the city's parking facilities manager.

    "It's needed because we're looking at the parking fund's ability to build more parking," Bruch said, after presenting the proposal to commissioners Monday. "That's the whole purpose of this."

    Other proposed changes would increase parking permit fees for beach residents and employees.

    Residential permits, which allow beach residents to park in lots in the northern beach area, could be increased to $50 from $25 annually.

    Parking permits for employees of beach businesses could be increased to $30 monthly from $15 monthly for most of the year, and to $65 monthly from February through May, under the city's proposal.

    Commissioner Bob Clark asked city staff members to reconsider the permit increases.

    "I'm not sure I want to see that put on the backs of beach employees," Clark said.

    The Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce also opposes the proposed peak monthly charge of $65 for beach employees, said chamber president Lou Piano.

    "We can accept $30 a month," Piano said. "Most businesses could accept that, and they would pick up half of that, maybe, for their employees. Anything more than that, I don't think it would go over well out here."

    Bruch said the city has proposed raising the permit rates because beach employees and residents sometimes will buy one parking permit, then share it with friends and other employees who should have gotten their own permits.

    But Horne told commissioners Monday that city staff members will consider objections to the increases and then bring back a revised parking plan for public debate before the end of the year.

    Bruch said that even with the increases, Clearwater still will be fairly competitive with other cities' parking rates in the area.

    For comparison, Tampa's hourly public parking rates are $1.25. Madeira Beach, St. Pete Beach and Treasure Island charge $1 hourly, although other places like Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores charge only 50 cents, a city survey states.

    Clearwater last raised beach parking rates in 1999 by a quarter, with officials saying that the increase would finance a beach parking garage and new parking meters.

    The city still has to decide on a location for a beach parking garage and, perhaps, a new downtown garage, although the issues have been discussed for the past year.

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