OCC District won’t opt out of planned city parking rate increase

       Unable to beat a proposed citywide parking meter rate increase, the Old Colorado City Security & Maintenance District Advisory Committee decided May 3 to join the effort - on the condition that the district get a fair share of the revenues.
       The committee vote supported City Parking Director Greg Warnke in his efforts to bring City Council the five-year plan it requested. The plan is to specify projects that would be paid out of parking funds. Based on committee discussion, Warnke said he would propose a project to repave the district's three free parking lots. The catch is that such a project may not be allowable under the applicable city ordinance. He said he will seek an opinion from the city attorney.
       Warnke is scheduled to go back to council Tuesday, May 9, although he told the committee he will ask council if he can have until the May 23 meeting so he will have sufficient time to prepare the five-year plan.
       Under the rate increase, the meters in Old Town would go up from 50 to 75 cents an hour starting in July. The increase would be the same in other parts of the city that have meters, except the main part of downtown, where the rate would become $1 an hour.
       The rate increase has been pushed by the Downtown Partnership (DP), which represents downtown merchants, under a concept plan (presented to City Council April 25) in which the citywide parking revenues would be used to spruce up the downtown.
       Councilman Jerry Heimlicher, whose district includes Old Colorado City, objected at the council meeting that this was unfair. “This is another example where Old Colorado City is being treated as stepchild,” he said after the meeting. “I have to protest on behalf of them.”
       Members of the district committee reiterated these sentiments at the May 3 meeting, which Warnke attended. In the parking-increase plan that went to council, “Old Colorado City is only mentioned in the revenues, not the expenditures,” observed Committee Chair Judy Kasten. By her calculations, the district would earn $69,000 a year from people feeding its 137 parking meters under the new rate.
       Warnke said the projects listed April 25 were provided by DP; he didn't show any for Old Colorado City because he didn't know of any. He advised the district to become more of an advocacy group with City Council, the way DP is. “I hate to say it, but the downtown has its stuff together,” he said.
       However, Kasten noted that her district has no paid administrative staff, while DP can afford several employees.
       Under a 1999 ordinance, a rate increase was scheduled in 2007. The DP wanted it in July (half a year early) so that the “double whammy” of the increase and the Bijou bridge closure (part of the COSMIX I-25 project, scheduled from January to September 2007) would not happen in the same year and turn off potential shoppers, Warnke explained.
       If parking lot resurfacing does not meet the meter-money legal criteria, the district has a few other improvement possibilities, totaling $400,000 according to research by Warnke and Ric Geiman, City Parks liaison to the district. (City Parks has ultimate responsibility for the district's public amenities.)
       However, maintenance of any such work would fall on the district.
       Committee member Bill Grimes questioned whether the increase would be worth it if the funds can't pay for the parking lot repaving. “If the city attorney says no, we're dead forever and we've got higher parking rates,” he commented.
       But the committee consensus was that the rate increase is not that high and opting out would be a bad political move that might keep Old Colorado City from ever getting a project from the parking money again. “I just don't think we can revolt against this,” Ginny Wesley said.
       “We just want our fair share, that's all,” Cretee Nemmer said.

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