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Well-intending parking letter by CFIB misses mark on both sides

Mayor says parking stations were meant to support the downtown. 'Unfortunately… people are finding the machines difficult and are opting, apparently, not to visit downtown'
2021-09-23 ap_134738
Parking metres like this one are now found throughout Midland's downtown core.

There don't appear to be brakes on the Midland free parking discussion as it coasts along.

In a letter to Midland Mayor Stewart Strathearn and members of council obtained by MidlandToday, provincial affairs director Julie Kwiecinski of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) responded to calls for action by local merchants affected by pay-per-plate parking woes in the downtown core.

Entitled “Free parking and pay-by-plate parking meter system,” the CFIB letter begins with noting its national representation of approximately 95,000 businesses before acknowledging the reason for the letter.

“Local small business owners have contacted us to express their outrage with the town’s plans to end free parking, especially when many are still trying to recover from the pandemic and foot traffic is down. We’ve also heard complaints from Midland small business owners about the new pay-by-plate parking meter system,” wrote Kwiecinski.

The letter continues by providing data from a recent CFIB-operated survey on their Small Business Recovery Dashboard, stating: 55 per cent of Ontario’s small businesses are at less than normal revenue levels; 66 per cent are struggling with COVID-19 debt; 43 per cent are unable to pay back on the $160,000 average COVID-related debt; and 81 per cent are dealing with pandemic-related stress.

While the letter doesn’t address the data of Midland parking issues, Kwiecinski included recommendations for the mayor and council to “seriously consider."

“On behalf of local businesses,” wrote Kwiecinski, “we urge you to: Make free parking permanent; scrap the costly, faulty and user-unfriendly pay-by-plate parking meters, without financially penalizing taxpayers for Council’s ill-advised decision to install them; and take the time needed to work closely with the business community on parking solutions that will keep local businesses and customers in Midland, and encourage more tourism.”

MidlandToday contacted the CFIB to inquire if the staff report or archived parking discussion had been researched prior to submitting the letter.

Kwiecinski responded, “The letter was written based on what we’ve been hearing from our small business members on the ground in Midland.”

In response to a question regarding municipal comparators in the staff report which listed Midland’s $31-per-month parking rate – and $8.25 monthly for resident/workers – as the lowest among municipalities such as Cornwall ($40), Orillia ($60), Barrie ($74) and several others, Kwiecinski replied that municipalities with free parking ($0) should have also been included in the report, such as Huntsville, Gravenhurst, Bracebridge and Cambridge.

Kwiecinski also noted that the $500,000 revenue forecast by staff, as discussed at the previous council meeting, was not a true revenue loss.

“Our local members have been telling us that Midland over-estimated the amount the meters would generate, so what we’re really talking about here is unrealized revenue to make up for poor projections. Council approved these poor projections,” Kwiecinski stated.

Strathearn was contacted by MidlandToday about the letter.

He stated that the $500,000 projection was a low estimate which would offset the $250,000 in maintenance on the downtown parking lots, and pointed out the town’s difficulty in obtaining funding whether locally or provincially.

“We’re well aware of Huntsville and Gravenhurst; Parry Sound is another one where they bag the meters for certain periods,” said Strathearn. “And the difference… is that they get fairly significant OMPF payments and we don’t. I think Tiny (Township) gets $1.8 million every year for the last 10 years; so they put $18 million into their coffers and we haven’t.”

Strathearn said the parking stations were meant to support the downtown.

“We could have put it on the general levy; which didn’t seem to make sense, you know, the cost of being in downtown. We could’ve put it on the (community improvement plan) which would be a specific levy to all the merchants in the downtown; which since we’re just coming out of COVID, now we’ve got significant inflation, it doesn’t seem appropriate.

“So the alternative was to see if people downtown would support the merchants by paid parking. Unfortunately… people are finding the machines difficult and are opting, apparently, not to visit downtown.”

He stated that other factors such as increased gas prices have kept many people “pulling in their purse strings,” minimizing excess expenditures; and that parking stations were working in other locations like Barrie and Tobermory without the escalated level of conflict which Midland has faced.

Local business owner Joannie Petroff of The Pebble Tree on King Street told MidlandToday that she was one of the affected merchants who reached out for the CFIB to “be our voice."

The CFIB letter and recommendations had conveyed her concerns, but Petroff noted that “many points were overlooked."

“There wasn’t any mention of our petition that had been submitted to council as evidence proving our community was frustrated with our parking system,” wrote Petroff via email.

“I had been hoping that the CFIB would have done an investigation on our behalf, such as offer facts and details of other communities who had implemented the same system only to remove them 1-2 years after installation,” wrote Petroff.

“How did these towns and cities find the funds to replace parking revenue in the budget?  We greatly appreciate the CFIB reaching out to council, but I am sure Ms. Kwiecinski‘s resources were able to offer more information than was presented.”

Petroff stated that her increased store traffic in the past week was a result of the town’s decision to enable temporary free parking, and acknowledged respect to Midland council in their predicament.

“It is imperative that all facts be considered when asking for another option,” said Petroff.

Further information on pay-by-plate parking in downtown Midland is available on the Town of Midland website.

Council meetings are held every third Wednesday, and can be attended virtually through Zoom by contacting the clerk’s department of Midland town hall for a link to the meeting.

Council meetings can also be viewed on Rogers TV cable channel 53, or through the livestream on the Rogers TV website. Archives of council meetings are available through Rogers TV and on the Town of Midland’s YouTube channel.

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Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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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