City-County building in Helena

The city-county building in Helena is seen in this file photo.

Jesse Chaney, Independent Record

A proposal by the Helena Parking Commission to increase parking rates found no opposition from the city commission, although Mayor Jim Smith expressed a concern.

Smith said he was hesitant about endorsing an increase if the city was not pursuing other opportunities to fund downtown parking.

The parking commission’s authority is generally confined to the downtown area.

He noted that curbside meters on streets surrounding the Capitol district would be one way to help fund downtown parking. City Manager Ron Alles said that expanding the parking commission’s district was part of the parking commission’s plan.

Alles also said he would be working with the state Department of Administration and the governor’s office on charging for parking in the area where the Capitol is located.

The next step in the process to increase parking fees would be a vote by the city commission.

The parking commission recently agreed to recommend an increase in the hourly cost to use parking lots from the current 50 cents to $1.

The 75-cent per hour charge to use parking garages would also be increased to $1.

Those who park curbside would see the 50-cent hourly meter cost rise to $1. The only exception to this increase would be for meters in the 300, 400 and 500 block of Cruse Avenue, where the current 25-cent-per-hour fee would be increased to 50 cents.

A memorandum from Have Hewitt, the parking commission’s director, to Alles explained the Cruse Avenue rates by saying this was to continue to provide discounted parking for those who work downtown.

Hourly parking rates in Helena have not been adjusted since January 2006, according to the parking commission.

Based on 2016 numbers for downtown parking, the recommended increase would generate an additional $60,000, Hewitt said previously.

The parking commission has struggled with its budget in past years. This year it is dealing with the loss of parking revenue from downtown employees who worked at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana and those who worked at New West Health Services, Hewitt noted in March.

This fiscal year’s budget, which began July 1 and ends June 30, 2018, calls for revenue to be $86,169 less than expenditures, which Hewitt attributed to the loss of Blue Cross and New West employee parking revenue.

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I am a staff writer at the Independent Record covering primarily city and county governments.

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