Opinion Editorial

Leave parking portfolio in city’s hands

 The Packet & Times

Getty Images

Getty Images

To be blunt, the Downtown Orillia Management Board (DOMB) does not have a sterling reputation for being a unified, cohesive group that works well together. That was made painfully obvious earlier this year when many merchants expressed outrage at the DOMB’s decision to cancel the annual May sidewalk sale and alter July’s sale to a one-day event.

The decision exposed a deep rift within the organization. Some merchants criticized the manner in which the leadership made its decision. Others took their own, informal polls that concluded with a contrary opinion and, in short, it created a mess — dissension in the ranks, a war of words and a general feeling of unhappiness with the leadership. It is not the first time, by a long shot, this has happened.

Yet, here we are, just a few months later, and the city is contemplating, essentially, allowing the fractured DOMB to take over complete responsibility for downtown parking. If an agreement can be hammered out, the DOMB would be ultimately responsible for all matters related to parking in the downtown. It would, for example, be up to a new DOMB parking authority to ensure a “user-friendly” parking experience. Under its mandate, parking operations, maintenance and capital investments would be borne by the parking user and not subsidized by the taxpayer. The DOMB would incur all costs, including administration, maintenance, revenue collection, enforcement, etc. Also, all revenue, including meter, permit, fine and court costs, would go to the DOMB.

The city would retain ownership of the downtown parking lots and the DOMB would have to pay an annual “dividend” to the city — estimated, based on current revenues, at about $325,000. If the DOMB does not make enough money from parking to cover the agreed-upon stipend, it would have to charge merchants an extra levy to cover those costs. Think about that for a moment.

Without question, the DOMB should have input into matters related to parking in the downtown. It needs to be a partner in all discussions, debates and decisions. But it should not have the final say and exercise total control over such an important portfolio.

Perhaps even more alarming is that the city is contemplating an even greater role for the DOMB’s new parking authority. A recommendation to council portends the DOMB should, in the future, also oversee waterfront parking. That is putting a lot of power into a small number of hands.

There is a reason we have city councillors. They are elected by us to make decisions for us. Members of the DOMB are not elected by the general public. The DOMB is, by design, a self-serving, special interest group. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It is in place to ensure the downtown thrives. Period. We wish them luck with that. But parking in the downtown is an issue that impacts the whole community and is a reflection of the community. To rectify the myriad parking-related issues that have been identified, it would make much more sense to work together to find solutions rather than ceding management and operation to a small group of unelected merchants, many of whom barely have enough time to manage their own affairs.

— The Packet & Times 

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