MOUNT VERNON — The issue of downtown parking surfaced once again when City Council held a Streets Committee meeting Monday prior to its legislative session.
According to committee chairman John Fair, the city has been without its part-time parking monitor for several weeks. Fair said the previous monitor, Chuck Christopher, said it was a waste of time, but did make several suggestions about additional two-hour parking signs from McKenzie Street to Public Square. He also said a two-hour limit on the Square is a good idea, and told Fair that he could have written more tickets relating to parking in a handicapped space or parking too far from the curb, but was told by Mount Vernon’s police chief it was not in his authority to do so.
“I believe some type of patrol is needed downtown,” said Fair, adding that one possible solution would be to give back the monitoring responsibility to the Mount Vernon Police Department. That way, he said, the MVPD could enforce all of the parking ordinances.
Downtown manager Lynne Ricard said she continues to receive feedback from merchants that having a parking monitor is a benefit.
“People responded to me they felt it made a difference,” she said. “Many of the people were happy to have the service provided. Overall, I had most everybody saying it was a good thing and that they noticed a difference.”
Ricard did say some clarity was needed as to when residents could park in those restricted spots. City Auditor Terry Scott suggested that, if the violators were residents of the upper floors above the stores, some type of decal or sticker could be used to denote the cars of those residents, thus allowing them to park during off hours without being ticketed.
Regarding shoppers who go over the two-hour limit, Councilman Mike Hiller suggested a voucher system, whereby if a shopper is ticketed, he or she brings the ticket back tot the merchant for validation.
“That would eliminate the problem with someone shopping and not realizing they are over the limit,” he said.
“I am intrigued with the notion of putting the responsibility back with the police department,” said Councilman Burt Hanson. “That probably won’t be popular.”
Noting the number of young officers on the force who have families, Hanson said, “I think if the police chief was sincerely interested in this issue he could find a young police officer who would do this.”
He added that city officials would have to limit the amount of overtime an officer could collect while serving as parking monitor.
“I am getting pretty frustrated with this parking situation,” he said. “I was willing to give it a try ... but I think every dime it goes over to operate, it just doesn’t make sense.”
Fines received from parking tickets do not cover the cost of the part-time parking monitor.
“If money weren’t an issue, the best way to handle this is a part-time person,” said Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis. “But money is an issue.
“If we are going to maintain a viable business district, we probably ought to have some method of maintaining appropriate parking.”
Councilman Mike Hillier said he would hate to take officers on the clock and put them on parking monitoring duties.
“I would like the force out on the streets doing their job,” he said.
He also pointed out that funding for the parking monitor position has been allocated in this year’s budget.
In regular legislative session, council passed a $38.5 million budget. Councilman Derk Demaree said the budget was looked at and approved by council; some amendments were requested, and those amendments were made.
Council gave a second reading to an ordinance which would raise by 3 percent the salary scale for the council president, council members and the city treasurer. The ordinance would take effect in 2010. Councilwoman Rebecca Jordan said she wanted to clear up a misconception that council members were paid $48,000; council members are paid $7,897. The 3 percent increase would raise their pay to $8,134 and $8,378 for 2010 and 2011, respectively.
Demaree also wanted to clarify that, if no increase goes into effect now, there is no guarantee that in several years there will be a 5 percent or 10 percent increase.
Councilman Mike Hillier reiterated his opposition to a pay increase for council members and council president; he is in favor of the increase for the city treasurer.
In other business, council:
•Passed a resolution authorizing the safety-security director to advertise for bids and enter into a contract for rehabilitation of the Plaza Building.
•Passed a resolution appointing Mavis as the city’s representative on the District 17 Integrating Committee for Issue 1 programs.
•Appointed Mark Singh and Anton “Bud” Krutsch as citizen members to the Regional Planning Commission, representing the city along with Councilwoman Rebecca Jordan.
•Authorized Scott to make supplemental appropriations.
•Adopted a resolution reappointing Larry Schafer to the Ohio District 5 Advisory Council-Area Agency on Aging.
•Adopted an ordinance authorizing the safety-service director to sell a 2005 Chevrolet Impala and a 1998 Ford Crown Victoria being used by the Parks Department.
Mavis presented the Heart Award, given by the Mount Vernon-Knox County Chamber of Commerce to the city for its work with the B&O Depot. Mavis thanked the volunteers, led by Phil Samuell, and businesses, led by Ariel Corp., who saw the project to fruition.
Jordan said she received notification from law enforcement in Louisiana that a sex offender had moved into her neighborhood. She questioned whether, since Knox County Sheriff David Barber had previously stated his office did not have the manpower to make all of these notifications, it is something the MVDP could help with.
Hillier reminded property owners it was their responsibility to clear sidewalks. He also requested the city be aware of the mounds of snow that have at times piled up at intersections and crosswalks.
Councilman Bruce Hawkins reminded the community that the council members would be at Sips on Saturday, Feb. 7, at 8:30 a.m. to talk with anyone interested.
Demaree reminded residents to check on their neighbors, especially if he or she is a senior citizen, during this time of snow and cold weather.