EASTON, Pa. – Easton Mayor Sal Panto plans to put together a group of residents to discuss one of the city's biggest problems: parking.
The date for the "parking summit" has not been set. The mayor wants to assemble a group including people who live downtown, business operators and a couple other residents to spend most of a day batting around ideas about spaces for cars.
The strain on parking is part of the price of growth. Developers plan to add hundreds of apartments downtown as Easton prepares for the Pine Street garage to come down and the Fourth Street garage to go up. That same growth has allowed the mayor to present 13 consecutive budgets without a property-tax increase.
At Wednesday's city council meeting, Panto raised the issue of residents of downtown apartments who are, as part of their lease, guaranteed garage spots. Some of them prefer to park on the street, so they buy a $100 residential permit and the garage spot goes unused.
"They're taking up parking in the street," he said.
The mayor said the city is looking into whether it can block residents with garage spaces from double-dipping with a residential permit.
"I'm not trying to eliminate (residential parking)," he said. "I'm trying to make it more fair."
City Administrator Luis Campos said under the current permit program, the city has no way to check on whether a resident has moved but kept their permit. He led a recent parking audit that led to some permits being revoked.
Councilman Peter Melan used that audit, conducted by telephone, as an example of how the city has not kept up with technology. The result is a waste of staff time, he said.
"We're spending countless hours trying to find out who's parking where," he said. Melan said software could automate many city processes. He also complained about a lack of financial information as council reviews the 2022 budget.
"You guys have to do a better job," he told the administration.
Campos said the city is moving forward, but it has limited resources and some of its computer systems do not communicate with each other.
The mayor noted that the human element cannot be overlooked.
Some Easton residents, particularly elderly ones, "don't even have a smart phone" and new technology could leave those people behind, Panto said.
Drivers at parking decks where payment can be made by a phone application upon entry, for example, have confused some residents who are used to paying when they leave. They risk getting parking tickets, Panto explained.
The mayor said parking can be improved, but logic and numbers may not play a role in a city where people prefer to park on the street, and others risk big towing fees by parking on private property.
"It won't make sense," he said of the review of the space squeeze. "It never does. Parking is parking."
Another parking issue remains to be settled. Two women who have handicapped spaces have asked to be allowed to leave their cars parked on street-sweeping days. Campos said the administration recommends denying their request because it would open the gate for others to seek exceptions.
The city Board of Health will be asked for input on the issue before any action is considered. For now, the rule requiring all cars to be moved when streets are cleaned stands.