On Monday, Athens City Council passed an ordinance to increase parking fees by 25 cents an hour for all parking meters.
Parking in high-intensity zones, such as spots near the intersection of Court Street and Union Street, will be increased from $1 to $1.25 an hour.
Moderate-intensity zones will cost $1 an hour, low-intensity zones will cost 75 cents an hour and spots in the parking garage will now cost $1 an hour.
Mayor Steve Patterson said the increase will help fund phase three of renovations to the Athens parking garage.
One of those renovations includes the implementation of a kiosk for people to pay as they leave to replace the current meter system.
Councilmember Jeff Risner, D-2nd Ward, introduced this ordinance to the council and said the increased fees are necessary for the city to pay off the improvements.
"We're going to put in a kiosk, people will pay as they leave, and that's going to cost a little bit," Risner said. "So, rather than go out and borrow more money to pay for this third phase the administration, and then council approved to raise the rates there so that the parking garage improvements would pay for themselves."
The city previously contracted with two cellular providers, which used the parking garage to house their service antennas, but the companies have recently decided to end those contracts. Patterson said this resulted in a loss of $60,000.
"We have the two carriers that are using the parking garage," Patterson said. "One of them has already terminated their contract with the city, which was about $30,000 a year that we would receive from them to use our asset for their cell tower, and then the second carrier has already indicated that when their contract term ends that they will be removing their gear as well."
The fee increases are necessary to cover this loss of revenue the city has recently faced and other improvements, Risner said.
"The parking garage has been going through a series of structural upgrades to repair walls and the decking, to install better lighting, put some artwork up on the fifth level, improve the elevators making the stairwells better lit and less slippery," Risner said. "That amounts to several million dollars."
Other improvements to the parking garage include the construction of solar panels to decrease electric costs associated with the garage.
"We're kind of on this mission to get more solar panels on our government buildings here in the city of Athens … which helps us with number one, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and number two, lowering our energy costs because we have to pay the electric bills for all the city buildings," Patterson said.
Councilmember Alan Swank, D-4th Ward, was the only member to vote against the increase.
"I keep very close contact with my constituents and I've had numerous people call me and email me saying we're not in favor of this," Swank said.
Swank said he had not seen any data on the need for increasing parking fees and there should not be any hurry to raise rates until data is presented.
"My position on the whole thing … was there's no great rush to do this because we've not been provided any data that shows us that we're broke or we need the money," Swank said. "Let's come up with a comprehensive plan. We may find that we do need to raise fees, but I've yet to see the data that says that."
The new fee increase may affect council members directly because they have to pay for parking in the garage with an exception for when they are conducting city council business, such as being present during council meetings.
"City council people have a parking tag from the city and it's good from the third floor on up and stipulation as it should be for city business," Risner said.
Currently, there is no data on how much revenue the increased fees will provide for the city. Data projections are expected roughly 30 days after the price increase takes place at the beginning of the new year, Patterson said.