Parking Changes Eyed For Government Lots

SALISBURY — Parking problems in the city have officials considering changes to several government lots, some of which might upset disabled employees, according to one Salisbury City Council member.

The council discussed changes to nearby lot number 9, which is behind the government building, and lot number 14, which is across the street. Lot 9 especially raised eyebrows among the council.

“We receive a lot of complaints about how limited parking is in lot 9,” said Internal Services Director Pam Oland.

Because of its proximity to the government building, Oland informed the council that city employees with temporary or chronic mobility-impairing health issues are issued medical permits to park in lot 9 for free. However, due to the small size of the lot, it is difficult to continue providing medical permits to employees while also making sure there is enough room for others who need to park in the area. Oland’s solution is to charge for long-term access.

“There’s no requirement … to provide free parking,” she said.

So far, the city has been granting medical permits to the lot on its own initiative. Oland suggested keeping short-term medical permits, like those for employees with broken limbs or other temporary impediments free of cost. For those who want access to the lot for an extended period of time, however, she felt that charging for admittance would be fair. Due to its convenience and exclusivity, she also advised that the highest city endorsed rate of $40 per month be charged for a long-term medical permit.

Councilwoman Laura Mitchell was troubled by the idea of charging such a high price for medical parking.

“You’re treating someone with a disability differently than other employees,” she warned.

Mitchell questioned whether it would be legal to charge more for medical permits to lot 9 than for parking in any other lot, since the $40 fee Oland was proposing trumped the next highest fee of $35 currently in use. After listening to Mitchell, Oland still did not feel that the proposition impacted the rights of any disabled employees.

The town already provided more than reasonable accommodation in the form of the usual handicap spots located at other lots, said Oland, adding that several of those lots were free of charge for employees.

“It really isn’t that far out of the way … We offer employees lots 7 and 13 for free parking,” she said.

While she was receptive to the idea of dropping the monthly fee to $35 to fall in line with the current peak rate, Oland pointed out lot 9 was one of the best available, a distinction that might justify the maximum charge.

“We have to try to balance the needs of the public in this building with the needs of employees,” said Oland.

Council Vice-President Deborah Campbell agreed that the current parking situation was not working.

“We have to free up some space in the lot,” she asserted.

The council was unable to reach a consensus on medical permits, however, and decided to table the issue for the time being.

Oland then presented changes to another lot which easily passed unanimously. Lot 14, which currently offers two hours of free parking and then an hourly paid rate after that, will have meters and some permit spots added.

“It’s not really a heavily utilized lot,” said Oland.

Changing the composition of the space could help it generate more revenue. Campbell questioned, though, if such a sparsely used lot would be worth adding meters to.

“I wonder if we would even cover our cost,” she said.

Oland said the city currently had six meters in stock and the cost to install them would be “minimal” since all of the labor would come from her department.

The council was receptive to the idea and it will be discussed next week.