The Helena Parking Commission is recommending a $1 hourly cost to park downtown, although Cruse Avenue would retain a reduced rate.

Parking meters in the downtown area are currently 50 cents per hour, doubling if the proposal is approved by the city commission. No date has yet been set for the commission to hear the proposal.

The garages controlled by the parking commission are currently 75 cents per hour and would see a 25 cent increase. Cruse Avenue, where parking is currently 25 cents per hour, would be increased by an equal amount and the hourly rate would become 50 cents.

“It’s the first time in 10 years that they’ve gone up,” Dave Hewitt, the parking commission’s director, said after the meeting.

Cruse Avenue is being retained as a less expensive place to park to encourage employees at downtown businesses to park there, Hewitt noted.

Setting the hourly rate at $1 will mirror rates charged by Billings and Bozeman, according to Hewitt and City Manager Ron Alles.

“Our costs have gone up, obviously,” Alles said.

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

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 said.

This fiscal year’s budget, which began July 1 and will end 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.

Increasing parking rates will be a step toward the parking commission’s plans to change its mechanical parking meters for those that are able to accept credit and debit cards as well as cash, according to Hewitt.

“Trying to accomplish that, that’s part of why we’re raising rates.”

This adjustment in the hourly rate also comes in response to the downtown master plan that was completed last year and calls for an array of changes in rates and strategies.

It advocates for premium parking rates for premium spaces, those curbside to downtown businesses, Hewitt said.

At some point, the city would begin to implement the plan’s recommendations, Alles noted.

The parking commission is taking steps to get to that point where it makes sense for Helena, according to Hewitt.

“While there is enough parking to support current demand, there are opportunities to better manage parking to improve utilization and benefit,” the master plan stated in its summary of existing conditions.

Among recommendations are to “price parking to create high-turnover in desirable/convenient locations. It should be more expensive to park in front of a business than in a garage. Retail parking should turnover 20 times per day.”

Other suggestions are to have meters for all on-street downtown parking. Currently, there is one hour of free parking on some downtown streets.

The master plan suggested offering free parking for the first hour in garage and lots with pay-as-you-leave technology for those who plan to park there longer.

It also called for eliminating on-street permit parking and instead have those with permits use garages or lots, which would create more available on-street parking for short-term visitors.

Also proposed in the master plan is to eliminate residential parking districts, where parking is reserved for permit holders, and time limits for those who park on neighborhood streets.

Outbrain