By Shereen Siewert
WAUSAU — City officials are mulling changes to parking rules in downtown Wausau after a local business owner made headlines with an attention-grabbing sign aimed at parking ticket recipients.
The proposed changes include 90 minutes of free parking throughout the downtown area, issuing warnings instead of citations for first-time offenders, and spending about $300,000 on automated pay stations and license plate recognition software. The plan would essentially overhaul the current system with funding coming from the city’s parking fund reserves, according to city documents.
The proposed changes include findings from a consultant the city hired four years ago. In June 2014, city officials approved a $54,000 plan to hire Walker Parking Consultants to study the area’s needs and assess parking downtown. But since then, no major changes have taken place.
In June, Tyler Vogt, who co-owns Malarkey’s Pub, Townie’s Grill, and the Ugly Mug in downtown Wausau, erected a vintage parking meter outside Malarkey’s with a sign that read: “Parking ticket? Bring it in, we will give you 1/2 off a drink and mail it for you! We have stamps, envelopes & bartenders!” The sign was a lighthearted way to draw attention to what he calls inconsistent parking rules that are often a source of frustration for patrons who use the downtown area’s roughly 3,700 parking spaces.
The city collected $256,015 in revenue from parking citations in 2017, according to Finance Director MaryAnne Groat. That number is about a 23 percent jump from 2016, when the amount collected was $208,641. The majority of tickets were issued to first-time offenders, according to city documents.
From a cost standpoint, parking enforcement payroll in 2017 was $109,069, and the city paid $21,780 last year in parking software charges. There are other costs associated with parking enforcement such as the vehicles, meter maintenance, managerial and clerical support, Groat said.
The Passport parking system, where users download an app to their phones or visit a kiosk to pay for parking, is already used in cities across the state including Green Bay, Stevens Point, Wisconsin Dells and Appleton.
Members of city staff have so far discussed options with stakeholders from downtown businesses twice in meetings organized by Main Street, according to city documents. Two future meetings are planned for July. Feedback from those meetings and the results of a survey will be presented first to the finance committee at a meeting slated for 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 10, and on July 12 to the capital improvements and street maintenance committee. The full council will review the options in August.
If approved, the changes could begin as early as October.