Carroll: City considering a parking rate increase … really? | AspenTimes.com

Carroll: City considering a parking rate increase … really?

Meredith C. Carroll

It's not so much that I've already spent several hundred dollars on parking year-to-date in downtown Aspen. After all, had I known about "Parking-Gate" while it was still an (open) secret, I nevertheless would not have chosen to participate. ("Be the person you want your children to become" is the adage that sits a bit more conspicuously on one of my shoulders, opposite the more diminutive one that relishes whispering wickedly, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.")

I know I'm not alone in continuing to seethe that not only are there so many people who knowingly bilked the city out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by using empty prepaid cards to pay for parking, but more so that the city was complicit, as they were aware of what was happening and sat by idly. However, if that made smoke come out of my ears, picture me now breathing fire upon reading that the City Council is mulling a parking rate increase, in part to pay for the new system that will prevent the same kind of theft from continuing.

I work from home, and when the weather cooperates or when I don't have kids in tow or groceries to schlep, I'm delighted to use two wheels instead of four. My family, though, tends to want to eat, drink, play, get dressed and exist pretty much daily, which necessitates me driving into town several times a week on various errands.

It's not news that it's pricey to live and work in Aspen. As such, in recent years, as the Dolce & Gabbanas have gobbled up the Gaps, I've increasingly outsourced much of my family's operational necessities to stores in places like Denver, Glenwood Meadows, City Market in El Jebel and Amazon.com. I wish we could afford to shop exclusively in our hometown, but we can't.

Yet, should parking rates increase anytime soon, you can bet your bottom dollar I will make a point to buy even fewer lattes in the downtown core, contribute to the attrition of still more Aspen restaurants and generally take the vast majority instead of a select minority of my shopping west of the roundabout. The difference is that this time, while it'll still be business, it'll also be highly personal.

Yes, Aspen's longtime parking director Tim Ware lost his job (while slipping into another one with the same employer the very same day — a punishment even my 3-year-old would be clever enough to smirk at) as a direct result of Parking-Gate. That's hardly enough, though. Why wasn't the Aspen Police Department made aware of the crime being committed before it was printed in the news? How are there not additional heads rolling inside of City Hall for what they did know and did nothing about as well as what they didn't know?

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If the City Council wants to make the situation better (because there's no way to make it right unless they have a time machine capable of debiting prepaid cards in real-time while simultaneously transporting them back to 2012), they need to find the money to pay for the new, foolproof parking meters without punishing people, like me, whose hands are clean of their mess. I'm not asking for parking refunds or even parking ticket amnesty. What I'm asking for is to not pay for their negligence and the theft of others.

In fact, I'd argue the city of Aspen needs to start feeling the sting. If no others beyond Ware are losing their jobs for inaction regarding this debacle, it's time to start cutting — and thankfully for them, it's budget time.

May I suggest the city look more closely at its plan to add $500,000 worth of jobs in 2015? Perhaps the proposed positions are warranted, but at a time when there's a six-figure meter problem, it seems as if hiring should be on hold until it's figured out how the new parking system will be funded. I'd hate to see city employees suffer, although I'm not sure why my wallet should be first in line for the spanking.

Two wrongs certainly don't make a right, but adding a third — punishing longtime, law-abiding parking-payers — will do nothing but guarantee a fourth, which is me and others like me taking our business elsewhere. And when local companies start complaining about the loss of revenue, I'll dutifully, and quite glumly, direct them right back to City Hall.

Meredith C. Carroll, of Aspen, writes a regular op-ed column for The Denver Post. Contact her at meredithccarroll@hotmail.com, and read more at MeredithCarroll.com.

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