More Enforcement, Higher Fees for Downtown Parking

Access and cost are key issues as the Town of Huntington looks to solve its nagging downtown parking problems.

By a 3-2 vote at its April 16 meeting, the Town Board approved a plan to increase parking rates. Supervisor Chad A. Lupinacci and Town Councilmen Ed Smyth and Gene Cook supported the increase, while Council members Mark Cuthbertson and Joan Cergol opposed it.

The increase coincides with a program to crack down on violators through a speeded-up demand for payment on violations, accompanied by increasing penalties such as booting  the vehicles of scofflaws and refusing them various town permits.

Lupinacci’s office touted the success of tougher enforcement through its Parking Enforcement Teams.

“We have received positive feedback regarding the increased visibility of the PET patrols, particularly in the village,” Lupinacci said. “We are stepping up enforcement to alleviate our long-standing parking congestion. It’s too early to expect much in the way of behavioral change by our parking patrons, which is the goal of our new, consistent parking enforcement patrols, but the PET has certainly made a difference, as the early returns bear out.”

From March 1 through April 10, PET officers have written  3,303 parking summonses with a face value of $233,935; 1,550 summonses with a $129,830 face value were written for the same period in 2018. Summons activity increases were largest in meter violations (both the quantity and the dollar amount increased by 90%) and commuter permit violations (both the quantity and the dollar amount increased by more than 1,000%).

 Public Safety Director Peter Sammis said,“We’ve had virtually no negative feedback from the public since we rolled out our Parking Enforcement Team and summons numbers are up over 100%. I think people are relieved to see the enforcement of parking rules, especially when there has been abuse of parking for so long. Just this past week, my PET officers have told me they’ve been very well received – at this rate they will probably have celebrity status around here by summer!”

 Cuthbertson objected to the rate increase, writing on HuntingtonNow.com that, “I opposed that resolution because I believe that before we ask town residents to pay another fee increase for parking we should take steps toward alleviating our parking issues such as going forward with a parking structure or acquiring additional property for parking spaces.

“I also opposed this resolution because I think it goes against the opinions of experts we have paid to help us address parking.  Six years ago, a consultant retained by a public-private consortium exploring parking solutions for Huntington Village recommended a two-tiered parking structure in which spaces on Main Street and New York Avenue would cost more than those on side streets. The purpose was to encourage greater turnover on the Village’s main commercial streets so customers of businesses located there would have a better chance to find a spot for short-term parking while they picked up cleaning, purchased coffee or visited shops. Basic economics underpinned the recommendation: people will be willing to pay more for convenience.”

Lupinacci’s office said that a  “2018 study found that the intended effect of the initial implementation of $1/hour rates helped increase the turnover of on-street parking, which directed longer-term parking patrons away from these “premium” spots and into “secondary” spots and lots, as parking patrons in $1 spots were only staying an average of 57 minutes even though the time limit was 3 hours. However, one can consider on-street spaces in front of any merchant “premium” parking for those merchants and the study recommended bringing the $0.50/hour spots in line with the $1/hour spots to help improve parking conditions for all on-street spots.”

Before the patrol roll-out, the Town employed a patchwork of enforcement, scheduling patrols periodically, using available resources. The new Parking Enforcement Team employs two  full-time officers, specialists in parking enforcement, who patrol regularly, as well as occasional part-time resources as they become available and if conditions warrant; the near-term goal is to have a minimum of four full-time PET officers, supplementing their efforts with occasional part-time resources, the town said.

The Department of Public Safety encourages residents to report parking issues or suspected abuse of parking rules by  using the Town’s At Your Service system, online at http://www.huntingtonny.gov/public-safety

In its efforts to make violators pay up, the Town took a carrot-and-stick approach. It first offered a limited amnesty program with a one-time discount of 40% on the total balance of all outstanding fees on delinquent parking summonses for violations issued between Jan. 1, 2013 through June 30, 2018.  The tougher rules will go into effect July 1.

That amnesty program yielded $162,161 on 972 previously delinquent parking summonses, representing over 20% of unpaid summonses eligible for the program. All currently unpaid parking summonses have returned to their original balances and may result in further action by the Town.

“This is money the Town never would have seen in the past due to inconsistent collection efforts,” Lupinacci said. “We are taking a proactive approach to free up parking and increasing enforcement helps ensure there is no abuse of parking that will hinder the downtown Huntington village experience for our parking patrons.”

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