By Jim Austin
The Daily Star
---- — COOPERSTOWN — The village board voted last week to institute paid parking in the downtown business district, but not before responding to resident and business community concerns by agreeing to a plan that would provide two hours of free parking to permit-holders.
The parking permits would be available to anyone for a fee of $25 annually and would provide up to two hours of free parking each time a motorist parks within the paid parking area.
“I’ve always felt the premise was not seeking revenue from ourselves,” Mayor Jeff Katz said following the meeting. “I really prefer a permit as a nod to local people.”
Katz said the changes in the law were based on comments they heard before and during the public hearing held last Thursday.
“I think they [the changes] made for a better law,” he said.
During the public hearing, the board heard numerous concerns about the potential impact of paid parking on Main and Pioneer streets.
“If you really feel it is necessary, I hope you’ll offer a permit we can buy or more 15-minute spaces,” said lawyer David Clinton, who added that if the village needed additional revenue, he would not be opposed to a tax increase.
Realtor Patti Ashley, whose office is on lower Pioneer Street, said paid parking would be a “disaster” for business people there.
Margaret McGown stated she is against paid parking. McGown said she tries to do business in the village, but if paid parking comes to the business district, her support will go elsewhere. Every resident, she said, should get a free parking pass.
Former Mayor Wendell Tripp, a long-time observer of local politics, questioned if paid parking will relieve the financial burden on residents.
“I am just wondering if the income derived is significant enough to make a difference,” he said.
One voice in favor of paid parking was Walnut Street resident Henry Nicols, who said paid parking has been talked about for decades.
“I’m concerned we have a valuable resource on Main Street that we are not using,” he told the board.
Chamber of Commerce Director Pat Szarpa suggested that if paid parking becomes a reality, the board should consider more 15-minute spaces and that the signage needs to be improved.
Joan Clark, the owner of a Main Street commercial property, took the board to task for the timing of the public hearing.
“I can’t believe you would have any kind of hearing on Dec. 20,” she said, adding that the board should find another way of raising money “instead of killing Main Street with paid parking.”
“I don’t think the trustees know how hard it is to have a business on Main Street,” said her son Paul Clark. “You’re really penalizing Main Street. You guys will be famous down the road if this thing fails.”
Mary Margaret Robbins warned of the changes paid parking would create and asked the board not to “kill Main Street.”
The board also received letters stating that paid parking would make it more difficult for locals to do business in the village and for non-tourist businesses to survive on Main Street.
Following the hearing, the board discussed the issue.
Trustee Cindy Falk, the chair of the streets and building committee, said the impetus for paid parking was the $900,000 a year that engineers estimate it will take to maintain the village’s street infrastructure.
“It does not generate $900,000; closer to $250,000, but it’s a step in the right direction,” she said.
“I understand both sides,” said trustee Jim Dean. “We need the money and I understand the merchants’ view. If we do nothing, we’ll be $250,000 short. If we do it, we’ll be held responsible for everything that happens.”
Trustee Walter Franck said the reason the board is considering paid parking is because the village needs to fix what is under the streets.
“The infrastructure in this village is critically in need. We need a way to come up with $900,000 a year. We’ve got to find a way to solve this issue.”
Franck said he doesn’t like paid parking, but tourists are an untapped source of revenue.
Trustee Lynne Mebust said it is necessary to look at how paid parking fits into the overall parking plan. She also suggested that it would be possible to bring in paid parking in stages that would allow the board to evaluate all aspects of it.
Board member Ellen Tillapaugh said she sees paid parking as a way to not have locals bear so much of the burden.
“I would like to see a phased approach; take it step-by-step,” she said. “We’re asking tourists to help fund us.”
“I think we have done our due diligence. Our revenue needs can not be met with reductions in costs, it will have to come from another source of revenue,” Franck said. “Other options are one-time infusions like grants. We need to come up with a way of bringing revenue into the village; not just next year, but every year. It’s a reasonable way of doing it, the lesser of evils.”
Katz spoke of the money Cooperstown generates for the county through bed and sales taxes. It sees little of the money, he said.
According to Katz, paid parking in the Doubleday Field parking lot generates revenue equivalent to a 9 percent tax hike.
Falk said it would be possible to program the pay and display machines to allow free 15-minute parking in every space and paid after that. It would, she said, address some of the concerns presented by business people.
“I really want a permit system for residents and non-residents,” Katz said. “I really don’t want to slam the residents.”
Katz made a motion to adopt paid parking that incorporated a permit plan. Before a vote, Tillapaugh, whose family owns a funeral home on lower Pioneer Street, moved to amend Katz’s motion to exempt that portion of Pioneer Street north of Stagecoach Lane from paid parking.
Her amendment and Katz’s motion were approved unanimously.
The board also set a hearing on the establishment of four additional 15-minute spaces on Pioneer Street.
“We heard the issues from multiple members of the business community on the street,’ Katz said later. “We heard they needed some help. There were also resident issues on a street that is half-business, half-residential. We addressed some specific needs.”