downtown parking

Vehicles are seen parked in downtown Idaho Falls on Tuesday. The Downtown Development Corporation is set to take control of on-street parking enforcement downtown.

The Idaho Falls Downtown Development Corporation is set to take control of on-street parking enforcement downtown.

The Downtown Development Corporation already handles parking enforcement in the downtown parking lots and has for more than 20 years, which it leases from the city for $1 a year and manages and maintains. What will change is the Downtown Development Corporation, instead of the police, will be writing tickets to vehicles parked on the street as well.

“We’ll just shift all of that together, so we can have the same philosophy throughout downtown for parking management, and the philosophy really is focusing on customer service,” said Catherine Smith, the Downtown Development Corporation’s executive director.

The City Council went over a proposed memorandum of understanding at its work session Monday and is expected to vote on the proposal Thursday night. Community Development Services Director Brad Cramer said the change will allow for more consistency in enforcing on-street parking time limits, as well as putting downtown parking management under one roof.

“(The) police have done a good job with the resources they’ve got,” he said. “But the reality is, it’s an 8-to-5 kind of thing, and if the enforcement person is on vacation there’s no enforcement.

The city still would be in charge of crafting the parking regulations, including putting up signs and deciding the time limits.

“Ultimately that remains the city’s decision on how the parking policies and that kind of thing is set,” said Assistant City Attorney Mike Kirkham.

Smith said Idaho Falls has about 1,000 on-street parking spots downtown and about 3,000 off-street. The problem downtown, she said, is parking management, not a lack of parking. Smith said she wants to encourage people who work downtown to use the parking lots rather than parking on-street.

The Downtown Development Corporation will be using enforcement software that photographs someone’s license plates and can check to see whether they have been ticketed before or have any outstanding fines. Then, when the enforcement vehicle passes again two hours later it can check to see if the same vehicle is still there. First offenders, Smith said, would get “a friendly note from our parking ambassador” instead of a ticket, including a map of downtown’s parking.

“The goal, really, is to help educate the parking customer so they know where they park based on how much time they spend downtown,” she said.

The Council also is expected to vote on some tweaks to its parking ordinance Thursday that would, among other changes, allow an “authorized agent” as well as the police to enforce parking violations. This would legally allow the Downtown Development Corporation to enforce on-street parking regulations, although it wouldn’t lock the city into any particular arrangement and, even with the changes, the city could still go in another direction if it chooses, Kirkham said.

Councilman Jim Francis said the arrangement would benefit both the city, which would get a service from the Downtown Development Corporation, and downtown merchants, who will have fewer long-term parkers in front of their businesses.

“This is, I think, win-win,” he said.

The city has budgeted $35,000 for this year to fund the Downtown Development Corporation’s enforcement.

“The $35,000 though, that’s significantly less than what the police department is paying for salary and benefits for their position,” Cramer said.

However, the number could change next year. Francis asked Smith at Monday’s work session if she could get a report to the Council early during next year’s budgeting process, so the Council can evaluate how much it needs to spend.

Cramer said the city isn’t clear yet on how much enforcement will cost, since the city doesn’t have a breakdown of parking ticket revenue by neighborhood. It’s possible, he said, that revenue from tickets could end up covering much of the cost in the future.

“It’s going to take some time to get there,” he said.

The Downtown Development Corporation would keep the money collected from fines but would only be able to spend it on public transportation or maintenance and improvement of city streets and parking facilities, with the Council in charge of deciding where it is to be spent. If the Downtown Development Corporation’s costs exceed $35,000, it would be allowed to “deduct reasonable costs directly attributable to enforcement or collection of parking revenue from the amount of revenue collected,” according to the memorandum of understanding.

Smith said the Downtown Development Corporation also plans to roll out an app in the near future that will let people who are parked in pay parking lots extend their time there.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.