It’s taken a while, but Fort Smith is finally expected to get digital parking meters in 2020.
According to the proposed 2020 budget, $325,000 has been allocated for the meter replacement though previous estimates indicate the entire amount might not be used.
The Fort Smith Board of Directors discussed last December a plan to upgrade the current meters, which only take quarters, to those with the capabilities to take credit cards, debit cards, prepaid park cards and mobile app payments. These would also take quarters.
Vik Runkle, interim finance director, said last week the city should end the year with about $467,000 in the Parking Authority Fund, which includes previously unspent money. The 2019 revenue from the meters and parking garage was nearly $171,000 and expenses were $102,000, as of Nov. 19.
“We are now experiencing revenue in excess of expenses. We have the money to replace the meters,” City Administrator Carl Geffken said. “We’re looking at potentially replacing less of them.”
Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman said last year most meters would be retrofitted with a new internal mechanism and top dome, with the bottom portion and pole remaining in place.
“It’s a project that we’ve put on the back burner as we work with our downtown businesses to see what would be best,” Geffken said of the delays in getting the project started.
The city has worked with business owners, 64.6 Downtown and the Central Business Improvement District to determine if all 436 meters need to be replaced.
As of Friday, it appears that about 325 meters will be replaced or retrofitted, because stakeholders don’t necessarily think upgrades need to occur on all the side streets, Rogers Avenue, A Street and B Street.
Dingman said he’s already begun evaluating which meters don’t necessarily need to be upgraded because of the location.
Some parallel parking spaces can also be serviced by a singular meter, Dingman said. These meters have the option to select the side a user’s vehicle is parked on and pay for that space.
When the idea was first presented to the board, Dingman expected it would cost around $300,000 to upgrade every meter.
The app would allow residents to pay, end or extend their sessions from their phone. Notifications can also be enabled to remind users when a meter is set to expire.
“It’s more (about) the functionality and being able to provide people the ability to use their credit card or mobile application, like many of our sister cities in the northwest part of our state that already do,” Geffken said last year. “We’re coming into the 21st century.”
Meters on Garrison Avenue cost 50 cents per hour, Geffken said. Those on the side streets are 25 cents per 40 minutes.
The directors, however, approved last week the annual resolution to waive downtown parking rates from Wednesday until Jan. 3 to promote the Shop Local holiday campaign.