Pembroke – The hourly parking rate in downtown Pembroke will remain at 50 cents for this year, but the fine for an expired ticket will increase by $5 to $15 despite a recommendation from the planning and development committee and two members of council to raise it to $25.

Councillors Andrew Plummer and Ian Kuehl favoured increasing the fine to $25, but their motion was lost in a 4-2 vote at last Tuesday’s council meeting.

Colleen Sauriol, Director of Planning, Development and By-Law Enforcement, told council that in a letter from the Pembroke Business Improvement Area (PBIA) in mid-January, they had three points they wanted the city to consider:

1 – Delaying the meter increase until July 2024; 2 – increasing the meter rate at that time from 50 cents to 75 cents per hour, and, 3 – increasing the expired meter ticket to $15 instead of the proposed $25.

A month later, a second letter from the PBIA indicated the group was not adverse to increasing the parking fines related to parking contrary to time limits in parking lots from $25 to $35, but asked again that the expired parking meter tickets only be increased to $15.

Currently, the city manages 198 meters and 633 parking stalls in the downtown core. Of the 198 meters, 147 are old and they cannot be recalibrated to increase the hourly fee. To change the amount, the old meters would need to be replaced at a cost of over $32,000.

Ms. Sauriol said the 51 new meters could be recalibrated to increase fees, but it would cause confusion if the fee for only those 51 meters were increased. Added to the problem is the 51 new meters are scattered throughout the downtown.

She also told council revenue could be increased by $28,235 if expired permits were raised from $10 to $25 or by $21,385 if the fine was increased to $15.

Coun. Plummer was the first to speak on the matter saying it’s good to get ideas and opinions from the downtown, but at the end of the day, the buck stops at council.

“We as a council have to make decisions what is best for the city and we have to look at and weigh the costs on inflation and staffing time,” he said. “I’m certainly in favour of keeping the $25 for expired meters because I don’t think $15 is much of a deterrent for people not putting a quarter in.”

Coun. Kuehl was in agreement, saying at the end of the day it’s great to do things for businesses.

“With all due respect, I think councils over the last several years, we’ve spent a lot of time looking at the downtown,” he said. “I’ve been trying to support the downtown as much as possible since getting elected, but at the end of the day I think at the moment our parking authority generates about a $90,000 deficit a year.

“When we were previously increasing the meters for the first time in decades, I think we were only at the high 30,000s closing the gap.”

Coun. Kueh said it was hardly worth the time processing a $10 fine.

“And what people have to realize is that people can fight the fine, involving even more staff time,” he said. “There are people who have told me outright, they play roulette with the system. They are not worried about a $10 fine so they don’t even put money in the system.

“I don’t think that’s how the City of Pembroke should be enforcing its by-laws. Again, $10 just doesn’t cover anything.”

He agreed downtown businesses were not having the easiest of years, but added he didn’t notice any thank you cards floating around the planning department from the last 20 some years when fees weren’t increased at all.

“These things haven’t been touched in over 20 years,” he said. “At the end of he day, our staff earn more, other costs go up. Literally the cost of printing the tickets has gone up over 20 years.”

He said he wasn’t trying to hurt the downtown, but said the downtown has to recognize that when council is being asked to give a break, it’s on the backs of other taxpayers.

“At the end of the day, somebody’s footing the bill for that $90,000 in the parking authority. We’re not even asking the PBIA to take the entire $90,000; we’re asking them to accept a first time fine increase to $25 which at this time is barely the cost of a good meal.

“It’s for the enforcement of the law and everyone around this table should be in favour of enforcing the laws,” he said.

Parking has been an issue for several decades, he said, but meters are important to keep traffic moving. Otherwise, someone could occupy a space all day long and that would affect traffic to the stores.

“The easiest thing I could say we should do is to say, let’s just get rid of parking authorities. We’ll save $90,000, but then nobody will enforcing downtown parking which the businesses do want us to enforce.”

He said he didn’t wish to crush the hopes and dreams of the downtown, but it’s important the city recover some of its costs.

“We have to be frugal and this is two decades since there was last an  increase.”

Mayor Ron Gervais suggested a middle-of-the-road approach: listen to what the PBIA is saying, listen to what Giant Tiger owner Lou Hammill is saying and only do the increase to $15 this year knowing next year it would be increased to $25.

“Hopefully, that gives enough time to recover from COVID, to recover from the construction work and also being mindful of the additional work that is going to happen on one of the side streets to the main street this year as well,” he said. “I’m just trying to strike a balance.”
Councillor Pat Lafreniere said the city helped the downtown during COVID by providing free parking, adding last year was unique, not only due to construction but the impact on their clientele.

“Let’s face it. A lot of young individuals patronize the downtown. They go to the restaurants; they shop in the boutiques. They are being hit hard by the mortgage increases, interest rates, so I think it was like the perfect storm hitting the downtown.”

She said because council was doing such a service by assisting them, she supported Mayor Gervais’ idea to bridge the increases to give them a cushion.

“If the economic situation doesn’t improve and the downtown still struggles, well then we have to do what’s best for the ratepayer and I would say go half way this year and then go all the way next year with the increase.”

Deputy Mayor Brian Abdallah said it was important to look at the big picture. He said $25 is expensive for an expired meter, especially if it is an honest error.

“Word of mouth is the best advertising or it can be the worst advertising, so if you have an excessive fine of $25 for an expired meter, that’s going to make a lot of people upset and they are not going to want to come downtown.”

He said with mortgage payments and interest up, and small businesses repaying CEBA loans, it gives a negative perception and could lead to reduced traffic for businesses, loss of customer loyalty and the closure of businesses.

“Now is not the time to go from $10 to $25, but $15 would be fine,” he said.