City to offer free week of parking | AspenTimes.com

City to offer free week of parking

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

Downtown parking will be free in Aspen between Nov. 17 and 25 while the city begins the two-week process of replacing its 81 meters with a new system, the Aspen City Council decided Monday.

City Manager Steve Barwick had initially suggested allowing free parking for the full two weeks, from Nov. 17 through Nov. 29, but the council opted for a shorter period of time.

"I support it (as) a gesture to the city that mistakes have been made," Councilwoman Ann Mullins said. "I can envision some confusion downtown when these things are getting changed out, so to me, it's a much cleaner process if parking is free. If the window can be shorter, that would be better."

In late September, the council approved an expenditure of about $600,000 for the new parking meters in light of a scam that has cost the city between $600,000 and $800,000 in parking revenue since 2010. The new meters will process payments in real-time rather than in batches, a flaw perpetrators have been exploiting by using maxed-out debit cards to gain free parking.

“I think it’s a good-faith apology to the community for kind of mucking up things,” Councilman Adam Frisch.

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Mayor Steve Skadron, who was not entirely in favor of offering free parking, asked Barwick how necessary it is to shut down all paid parking while the meters are phased out. Barwick responded that it would not complicate things too much to charge for parking using both systems.

"I'm concerned about habits being formed that we've worked so hard to address that contradict the very principles that underlie our entire transportation program," Skadron said. "I could get behind it if we reduced the window, if it was five days or prior to Thanksgiving."

Councilman Adam Frisch pointed out that while the week leading up to Thanksgiving may be the slowest of the year in Aspen, Thanksgiving is busy, and downtown retailers might get frustrated if cars are not turning over as fast as they normally would. He asked Barwick if allowing free parking will give people the opportunity to leave their car downtown for days on end.

"I think it's a good-faith apology to the community for kind of mucking up things," Frisch said. "I think we can handle the revenue loss. If someone will be able to park on the 12th and leave 12 days later, I'm not sure if we've addressed that issue."

"We still have our regulations related to moving vehicles, but they could conceivably be there for a couple of days," Barwick responded.

Barwick confirmed Frisch and Mullins' comments that this is a form of appeasement for the community relating to the parking scandal. He added it's not uncommon for the city to field suggestions from locals asking for free parking during offseason.

Councilman Dwayne Romero said he is "agnostic" to allowing the window of free parking, and he would like to see the meters replaced as quickly as possible. Councilman Art Daily called it a clean and simple way to handle meter replacement and added that he hopes the city can avoid any significant abuses, such as the one Frisch mentioned.

Barwick also updated the council on the progress of the city's forthcoming independent audit, in which a third party will review the city's financial systems. He said the city will submit a request for proposals soon to determine the auditor and results of the audit are expected in mid-February. Barwick, Finance Director Don Taylor and a resident panel made up of local finance professionals will review the bids. Barwick added that the group the city approached initially, McMahan & Associates, the city's regular auditor, will not submit a proposal.

herk@aspentimes.com