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Parking relief on the way

Port Orchard figures four hours is enough for most people — enough to have a meal, go to the hair dresser or window shop.

Those who need longer are typically commuters; people who want to leave their car downtown all day while they spend their time (and money, potentially) elsewhere.

Therefore, downtown parking is set up so the first four hours in designated spots is free — anything else costs $4 for a 12-hour period. Monthly passes are available for $88 — the pass simply offers convenience, not a discount. The city even offers a merchants parking pass for half-price: $44.

The problem is, the $44 merchants pass is twice as expensive as it was this time last year and merchants have begun to complain the increase has raised their operating costs beyond affordability.

“I think you can tell that most of the people who have businesses downtown don’t have a lot of money,” said hairstylist and business owner Diana McConaghy.

McConaghy, who owns Anthony’s Hair Architecture on Bay Street, says the city is literally driving her out of business with its parking changes. She said she can’t afford the $44 monthly parking pass that would allow her to park in a commuter spot and it’s extremely difficult to leave her business unattended several times a day to shuffle her car between customer parking stalls.

McConaghy said she’s even resorted to scheduling her clients around her car moves to try and balance her two responsibilities.

“Moving my car every four hours doesn’t work for me,” McConaghy said. “I won’t leave a client in my salon while I go out and move my car.”

As a result, she explained, she incurs tickets every time she can’t move her car in time — three in the last week alone. McConaghy said other business owners, particularly those who have minimum-wage employees, have similar problems. Anyone who can’t afford the pass and can’t take frequent breaks risks constant citations downtown, she explained.

To add insult to injury, McConaghy continued, she and other hairdressers at her salon have now collected enough tickets to warrant letters from the city’s parking enforcement division — letters that refer to the recipients as “habitual parking offenders” and threaten huge fines if the pattern of illegal parking continues. She said the situation has become absurd — parking is widely available and storefront vacancies are numerous, but the city is still targeting those entrepreneurs who stick it out downtown.

“To have letters like that written to people down there is very shameful,” McConaghy told the Port Orchard City Council at its June 23 regular meeting. “This is not very friendly business practices.”

In response to McConaghy’s June complaint, the council last Monday approved knocking parking rates back to the previous rate of $2 a day — $22 a month for merchant parking. The move — now in effect — essentially rolls the rates back to their pre-summer 2002 levels, erasing a year of incremental increases.

However, not everyone on the council loved the proposal. Councilman John Clauson said this move would resurrect the problem that spurred the increase in the first place — the problem of commuter parking rate consistency.

The city originally increased its parking rates to make city rates consistent with the proposed rates at Kitsap Transit’s park-and-ride lot in Annapolis. Up to now, the Annapolis lot has always been free. Unfortunately, the no-cost parking has become too popular, even to the point of damaging the lot.

Clauson, who is also director of service development for Kitsap Transit, said the transit board has authorized repairs on Annapolis and the subsequent launch of pay-parking services. When the pay-to-park system is installed, Clauson explained, daily parking will cost $4 — the same as Port Orchard’s current rates.

Clauson objects to a roll-back of downtown parking rates because he sees the gap as temporary. He said he didn’t want to vote to reduce rates now, only to hike them back up when the Annapolis improvements are complete.

Other council members, however, felt any relief from the rate increase was worthwhile.

Councilman Don Morrison, who chairs the council’s street committee, pointed out the city’s parking revenue has dropped considerably since the new, higher rates went into effect last January.

“The use of that lot has gone to near zero,” he said.

McConaghy said although she appreciates the council’s decision to offer short-term relief, the rates are going to have to stay low to do any good. If the council does reinstate the $44 merchant parking pass, McConaghy said she’ll go back to moving her car every four hours.

“I refuse to pay $44,” she said. “This town’s not worth paying $44. If I’m going to put out $44, I’d expect to be more in a location like Gig Harbor or Poulsbo. I’ll move my business before I’ll pay $44.”

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