Andy Hom works downtown. He parks his car downtown, too.
And sometimes -- about three times every two weeks, he figures -- Hom forgets to feed the parking meter. He always pays the $2 fines promptly, he said, but still isn't happy when he sees a meter attendant nearby.
"I do see them as little rain clouds walking around," said Hom, who works at La Prima Tazza.
So Hom wasn't happy to learn the Lawrence City Commission is expected next month to raise parking meter fees and fines -- by as much as 150 percent.
Officials say the increase will serve two purposes: raise needed revenues for the city; and provide an incentive for downtown employees to move their cars to less-expensive lots, a shift that would help downtown shoppers find parking spaces and make the city's central business district more inviting.
"The current fines aren't really high enough to give people much of an incentive to park where they really ought to," Mayor David Dunfield said. "We have people who should be using long-term lots but don't because it's more convenient to use the short-term lots and pay the fines. We'd like to discourage that."
Now, motorists pay 25 cents to park a car for 90 minutes along Massachusetts Street. They pay less -- 10 cents an hour -- in long-term lots on Vermont and New Hampshire streets. Violators get $2 fines if the meter expires.
Motorists who leave their cars in the parking garage at 10th and New Hampshire streets park free for the first two hours. The city also has 67 free parking spaces in the parking lot at Borders Books Music & Cafe at 700 N.H.; those spaces will soon be transferred to a new condominium project along Eighth Street, and many will be metered.
According to assistant City Manager Dave Corliss, parking meter revenues totaled $157,470 through the first six months of 2003. Parking fines brought in another $154,109.
He said officials still didn't know how much of an increase in fines and fees they should recommend to the City Commission. Corliss said top-end suggestions had been $5 fines and 50 cents for 90-minute parking.
"If you double the rate, will you double the revenue?" Corliss said. "We don't know for certain. We're in the process of analyzing that now."
Hom said increasing parking fees and fines might drive shoppers from downtown.
"It certainly won't help," he said.
And he said the free and long-term lots weren't always convenient -- or available.
"The Borders lot is full by 11" in the morning, Hom said.
But Dunfield said parking fees and fines in Lawrence were a "bargain" and still would be, even with increases. And if downtown employees move to the long-term lots, shoppers will have an easier time of parking.
"The complaints we hear about parking downtown tend to be about convenience," Dunfield said, "instead of cost."
In Topeka, metered parking rates vary depending on the time limit of the meter. For meters with time limits from 30 minutes to four hours, the hourly rate is 65 cents. For 10-hour meters, the hourly rate is 40 cents per hour. Parking in downtown Topeka garages also costs 65 cents per hour.
Fines for overparking start at $3.
In Lawrence, commissioners will take up the issue at their meeting, 6:35 p.m. Aug. 12 at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.