By NATHAN GREGORY
Though there are many Main Street parking enforcement options the Starkville Board of Aldermen can mull over, Starkville Police Department Chief David Lindley said the best one might be the cheapest.
In a report to the board on methods to solve the current parking problem, Lindley said the best option would be to have Main Street business owners ensure their employees utilize public parking rather than park on the street while they’re working.
The report was given in response to a presentation given by Greater Starkville Development Partnership vice president of tourism and economic development Jennifer Gregory on behalf of downtown business owners at an April board meeting. Gregory said business owners expressed the need for tougher enforcement on drivers who leave their vehicles in downtown parking spaces for more than two hours.
Lindley said the problem would not exist if those business owners would do the enforcing.
If you’re looking for a real solution that costs nothing … have the businesses ensure the employees do not utilize parking spaces dedicated for patrons. The number one violator we have consistently had … since I’ve been here has simply been the unwillingness of the employers to police their own employees,” Lindley said Tuesday during his report. “If you took the employees parking on Main Street and regulated them to park in the available public parking spots, downtown parking would not be nearly the problem it is now. If all the employees that work in all the businesses on Main Street would utilize the free available public parking lots, we would not have a parking problem on Main Street.”
The other options Lindley presented were outsourcing enforcement to Mississippi State University Parking Services or local security companies, hiring a full-time parking enforcement officer, hiring two part-time enforcers, recruiting volunteers, re-installing meters and chalking tires.
He said representatives from one of the local security companies have expressed interest in offering their services for a fee.
Lindley said the hiring of a full-time enforcement officer with benefits would cost the city approximately $30,959.62 a year, while hiring two part-time would cost an estimated $25,525.96.
Another option presented was the purchasing of handheld units similar to what MSU uses to carry out its parking enforcement, but that would cost at least as much as hiring a full-time enforcer.
“The software we would use, even if we cooperated with MSU, you would still have to buy some software that would cost in the neighborhood of $30-40 thousand, and each individual unit costs $6-8 thousand for a handheld computer to issue parking tickets,” Lindley said.
Lindley said he’s had discussions with MSU on outsourcing enforcement to its parking services department.
“It’s going to be difficult to do. It would entail an interlocal agreement that would have to be approved by the university and the city,” he said.
He said while the use of parking meters was effective when the city had them, it would be costly to bring them back. Using volunteers would bring consistency issues in terms of availability and would be risky simply because of the confrontational nature of the task.
Another issue with enforcement, he said, would be the increase in paperwork involved in ensuring violators would actually pay ticket fines.
“Anything we do has an upside and a downside, but the problem is what it is,” Lindley said. “The other thing that would have to be considered is the increase in docket load for the municipal court, which already is astronomical. I don’t really know with our current staff how they could add this.”
Despite the downsides to many of the options, Lindley said he could use a parking enforcement officer if the city were to give him the means to hire one.
I’ll use anything you’re willing to give me in my budget,” he said. “I not only would use the officer for downtown in the Main Street area but I would also charge that person with checking handicapped parking and parking lots all across town in shopping center and helping with on-street parking problems in the city.”
When Ward 3 Alderman Eric Parker suggested that Starkville Main Street Association, which does not have a policy on employees using downtown parking, should do something on its end, Lindley said efforts to get help from the group have failed.
“We’ve all but begged them to do it over the last 30-plus years and they simply don’t want to do it. They want us to be the parents and punish the children, which is their employees,” he said. “They want to make a problem they can control our problem.”
Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey said the board is currently mulling over options and should take stock in Lindley’s initial solution.
“I think given Chief Lindley’s history of dealing with this, the board should consider his recommendation, but in addition to that, downtown business should also see what they can do on their end regarding employee use of downtown parking,” Corey said.