Blairsville seeks applicants for new meter attendant post
Blairsville has taken a first step toward beefing up enforcement of borough parking meters. At its Tuesday meeting, council voted to advertise for applicants for a proposed new part-time parking meter attendant position that would include additional duties as an administrative assistant.
With Jeff Marshall absent, council voted 4-1 to pursue the meter enforcement measure after hearing a report from parking authority member Joe Nease suggesting that a majority of motorists are keeping their coins in their pockets when parking in the town's metered spaces.
In an unscientific study, Nease said he checked all of the town's occupied metered spaces at noon on three days — March 28 and April 2 and 3 — and concluded that, on average, only 24 percent of motorists were plugging the meters.
Extrapolating from current and past year-to-date revenue collected from meters, Nease estimated the borough is losing as much as $34,000 annually because of drivers who are failing to pay parking fees.
Nease said meter revenue actually has increased recently and he suggested that may be a result of the borough hiring Police Chief Michael Allman last year, after a period without a chief on board. Nease surmised that those who park at metered spaces regularly may now be plugging meters more often knowing that the chief is patrolling through town.
Still, Nease concluded that overall disregard of borough parking meters is on the increase. Based on a one-day survey of parking spaces he conducted in 2012, he found that the percentage of vehicles with a meter that had expired increased from 62 in 2012 to 76 this year.
Borough officials noted it has been many years since Blairsville has had a worker dedicated to writing parking tickets. While borough police can hand out tickets, it is not a high priority for them.
Compared to other communities, Nease said, “Blairsville has the reputation that you don't do anything” to enforce parking meters. He said he has often heard people in downtown Blairsville advise those who inquire about feeding the meters: “Don't worry about it. Nobody checks them.”
Nease argued that doing nothing to provide regular enforcement of meters would have the same impact as simply removing the meters — encouraging some motorists to park all day on downtown streets, making it more difficult for customers to patronize borough businesses.
Borough manager Tim Evans noted he's received phone calls complaining about such parking problems.
Councilman Jim Mollo, who cast the sole vote against advertising for a meter attendant, expressed concern that cracking down with parking fines might drive customers out of town. He also questioned the methodology Nease used to arrive at his figures and whether a meter attendant position could be self-sustaining.
If the proposed meter attendant proves successful, Evans said, “As you progress, tickets will go down and the coin (collections) will go up.”
Council President John Bertolino suggested the new meter attendant and administrative assistant might work up to 20 hours per week, but he noted the work schedule would be up to the discretion of the police chief.
According to Evans, the meter attendant, as a part-time employee, would earn $10.59 per hour under Blairsville's laborers' union contract, compared to $15.61 per hour earned by a full-time employee who currently handles clerical duties with hours split between the borough police department and the Blairsville Municipal Authority.
Borough officials said, with the new meter attendant/clerk on board, the full-timer could be shifted solely to municipal authority tasks. Blairsville Municipal Authority Chairman Terry Dibiase told council the authority has an increasing load of clerical work because it collects and tracks information from meters as it is working to decrease infiltration of storm water into sanitary sewer lines, in compliance with state environmental regulations.
DeWayne Dills, who chairs the parking authority, said he and Nease came to Tuesday's meeting to get feedback and make sure council finds the authority's efforts of value. “We don't want to be spinning our wheels,” Dills said.
Dills noted the authority has been reviewing the borough's 1998 parking ordinance and suggested that fines and hours of meter operation may need to be updated. While the ordinance calls for enforcing meters six days a week, Dills suggested making parking free on both Saturday and Sunday.
Bertolino encouraged the authority to continue its work: “I think everybody on council appreciates what you're doing.”
In other business Tuesday, council authorized Evans to seek financing for proposed purchase of a 2015 Ford F-550 truck with aluminum bed, four-wheel-drive and plow.
Council rejected a second round of bids for two vehicles it wants to sell. A $450 bid was rejected as too low for the borough's 1997 Ford Taurus, while not new bids were received for a 2004 Crown Victoria. Evans said he will list the cars at an online site in an attempt to sell them for a fair price.
With a change in its members since last visiting the issue, council agreed to uphold a commitment for a $5,000 local share toward a proposed pedestrian bridge across Route 22 in adjacent Burrell Township — providing grant dollars can be obtained to cover the bulk of the project cost.
Leann Chaney, the borough grant writer, said Indiana County is applying to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for funding toward the bridge, which would provide a safe pedestrian crossing from the Corporate Campus and local schools to retail stores and restaurants on the opposite side of Route 22. It would also provide an improved link between the Hoodlebug hiking and biking trail and Blairsville's own Riverfront Trail.
Mayor Ron Evanko declared April 25 Arbor Day in Blairsville, a prerequisite for the borough applying to renew its status as a Tree City. Polly Ringler of the borough shade tree commission thanked borough crew members for assisting with tree plantings by the Bairdstown Bridge. She said the commission is planning to plant new trees in borough right-of-way along Maple Avenue and will try to accommodate residents who don't want trees near their properties. But she pointed out that spots suitable for tree plantings are limited.
Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or email@example.com.