An unexpected and unwelcome surprise was waiting for Nicole Boelow as she took her family downtown for an afternoon by the river. The three quarters she expected to give them an hour's parking bought less than half that time.
We handed her some extra quarters and she made a trip to the car for more. Two and a half dollars into the meter, it still read just over an hour. The family will still be going home early.
"It's outrageous, who's going to want to go downtown?"
Everywhere around town, residents and visitors are getting the same news. "I had about an hour in change," says Kristi Hetrick, "I thought it would be good for an hour. I was shocked and asked my friends if there was a store around where we could get change." There wasn't. Their day by the river was also cut short.
Gale Patterson parked a block from her destination on a street with no meters, but she says her activities bring her downtown at least once a week. She'll come equipped in the future. "I guess I'll have to go by a casino and get a roll of quarters just to be able to park somewhere. To raise the rate to eight minutes for a quarter with no notice was really, really un-cool."
Actually the decision was made weeks ago when the city assembled its budget, but people are only noticing as the meters are switched over to the new rates. At this point 75 percent reflect the higher prices. The rest will in the next week or so.
The people at city hall say they've had few complaints so far, adding they feel the public's pain, but say it was one of the tough decisions they had to make as they worked to close a $12 million dollar shortfall.
Parking meter rates were one of the fees the city felt it could increase to help balance the books. The change will bring in more than $100,000 a year. How it will impact downtown businesses is unclear. For years the city has put considerable effort into attracting people to the downtown and there is concern the new rates will be counterproductive, but a city spokesperson says the higher rates will also discourage downtown employees from taking up available parking and may result in more available parking for customers.
In any case the city says there's still plenty of free parking downtown in public and casino parking structures, though they admit you may have to do some more walking.
Enforcement hours remain the same. So does the fine paid for a parking ticket, $10.