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Haggling ensues in heated deputation over downtown Midland parking meters

Council compromises after deputation from BIA and Chamber begs for warnings instead of tickets until Aug 1

There were no winners at Wednesday night’s Midland council committee of the whole meeting, but it remains to be seen who the loser will be.

In one corner was council defending the Midland taxpayers who would face a much higher tax levy if parking enforcement measures weren’t enacted starting June 1. In the other corner was the Downtown Midland BIA and Southern Georgian Bay Chamber of Commerce (SGBCC) fighting for business owners who were pleading for a delay on the parking implementation to accommodate their pandemic-adjusted curbside pickup modifications.

Into the late hours, council carried a motion amended toward the BIA and SGBCC’s requested compromise that would allow until August 1, a complimentary 15-minute parking option for all on-street parking as well as an option for one-hour parking in backlots, available once-per-day per registered license plate; all parking will be $1-per-hour past those expired time limits.

As well, enforcement of the pay-by-plate system would focus instead on a graduated education program, which would have bylaw officers issuing warning notices, but not tickets, to people over the time limit.

The big surprise came just hours before the meeting, as a press release by the town of Midland was sent out via email which definitively stated that the pay-by-plate program would be active and enforced starting July 1.

“That news release landed in my inbox at 4:52 p.m. today,” said BIA chair Scott Campbell.

“To say that I feel we are not being listened to, or being treated as our voice matters, would be an understatement after seeing that media release two hours before our deputation. I feel it was rude and undermines our deputation to council tonight.”

Several council members agreed with Campbell and apologized for the seemingly inappropriate timing, but Mayor Stewart Strathearn held a different take.

“Communication isn’t a one-way street,” Strathearn raised his voice. “To lay it on the municipality that ‘aw geez you’ve done a lousy job of communicating this’… I would say it’s been a bit slow getting out to the broader public, but to interested parties it’s been going on for some time.”

Campbell spoke on behalf of the BIA and SGBCC general manager Cathy Tait, who was also present.

They were asking for a delay on the pay-by-plate implementation for businesses who had struggled through the pandemic and Big Dig upheaval of their storefronts. The requested delay to September 1 would allow the BIA to provide an information campaign to businesses, residents and visitors to explain how the new system would operate.

“We know historically that these types of meters typically get overpaid,” cited Campbell, “some people paying the maximum regardless of the stay, and a noticeably large decrease in revenue should not be expected overall.”

He further implied that working together with council and staff would generate good news for the town’s image.

The strongest argument against any changes to the parking system came from Strathearn, who expressed empathy for business owners and referred to his own family’s history as merchants, but sternly reminded council and the deputants of the importance of paid parking.

“We did a 2.5% increase in taxes this year; those were mandatory costs,” Strathearn said. “That was because the finance group here… took a look at how debt was structured in this community and did some very, very innovative ways of restructuring the debt situation.

“We’re not allowed to run a deficit. If you take $233,000 out of the projected revenue stream, we’re going to have to draw down from those reserves that both the CFO and the CAO have said are perilous; they’re going to run out.

“If you look at projections in the budget, in 2023 those reserves are flatter than a pancake. That’s not a good place to be. If you decide to forgo two months’ worth of revenue from the meters,” Strathearn continued, “you are going to add it to the (tax) levy in 2022, unless you want to seriously -- and this time, seriously -- propose program changes and reductions.

On behalf of the BIA and SGBCC, Campbell offered up an alternate suggestion where people using the pay-by-plate meters could choose free parking options depending on where they leave their vehicles, and that efforts of bylaw enforcers could be taken from ticket-giving to education-providing.

Coun. Cody Oschefski brought forward the amendment directly from the words of the BIA and SGBCC’s compromise.

When it came time to vote, Coun. Jonathan Main was the sole nay to the 8-1 amendment which was carried.

“I’m on the BIA board, and I hate to vote against the wishes of downtown, but I always bring up the resource: the high cost of free parking,” said Main. “It sounds super corny, but paying for parking is investing in the downtown.”

Earlier, Tait read out a list of grievances by just a few of Midland’s affected businesses.

Papa’s Pizza called the “double-whammy” of COVID-19 and the Big Dig renovation of downtown a maze for frustrated customers; Graffiti Art looked for “every possible enticement” to attract customers; Dillon’s Wood Fired Pizza were “still dealing with the consequences of the pandemic” and said any assistance like free parking would encourage shoppers; Splash Floral looked for a 15-minute grace period for the non-retail curbside-pickup-only business to relieve stress.

Said Tait, “Our last comment, of many we received, is from Geoff White of Georgian Bakery. The amount of anger amongst motorists and pedestrians that he witnessed when the parking machines were installed was overwhelming. Downtown competes with the uptown big box stores that offer free parking.”

Coun. Bill Gordon spoke to residents who stated they would rather shop at a box store than support local.

“Nothing about free parking is free, even at Wal-Mart," Gordon said. "It’s not free; it’s baked into the costs of those cheap Chinese goods you’re buying. So the people I see online who say they’re going to shop at Wal-Mart, well guess what: you already were, you hypocrite. Don’t try to use that as a reason why you’re going to alienate the people downtown; I call b.s. on that one.”

In a written response to MidlandToday, Campbell stated that the BIA and SGBCC were happy with the outcome as well as being heard, and appreciated that they, council, and staff could all work together for a better downtown.

“This is important, and everyone should know, you need to enter your details at the pay-and-display box to be able to qualify for any of the free parking options,” wrote Campbell, adding that the BIA will help with the education campaign until August 1.

Parking permits for downtown employees are $99 annually, or $30-per-month, and can be purchased through the IPASS system once registered. An upcoming parking page is to be added to the town of Midland website, where all information on the pay-by-plate program can be found.

To further connect with residents and businesses, feedback for the parking system can be sent through the Engaging Midland website where it will be received until the end of July.

Council meetings are held on the first and third Wednesday of each month starting at 7:00 p.m. The meetings are broadcast live through Rogers TV on Cable 53, and are livestreamed and archived at the RogersTV website.


Derek Howard

About the Author: Derek Howard

Derek Howard covers Midland and Penetanguishene area civic issues under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada.
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