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City picks outside firm to enforce parking
MONROE - The Public Safety Committee on Monday concluded that the city should hire a third-party vendor to enforce parking time limits along the Square, but the details of the limitations are still murky.

Republic Parking System of Chattanooga, Tennessee, placed a bid with the city for a parking ambassador to oversee the downtown parking area once timed spaces are put in place. Police Chief Fred Kelley said the goal to begin the program is still set for Jan. 1.

He said he and his administrative staff favored hiring out parking enforcement.

"I think it'll get a better look if we went through a third-party vendor," Kelley said. "I don't think we'll save much money if we do it ourselves."

Republic Parking will charge $75,000 annually. The equipment that employees of the company, called "parking ambassadors," will use will be purchased by the city for an additional $15,000. If the city enters a 3-year agreement, the company offers a discount that could save about $10,500 over three years, but committee members preferred a one-year trial run.

Alderwoman Brooke Bauman said it would be beneficial to the city to test the new system for a year. She said it gives the city a short-term option and would be better than entering into a contract with a city employee hired for a union position.

"I just think it makes more sense to use a third-party vendor because we don't know for sure what we're doing," Bauman said.

Kelley recommended the city begin with handheld devices for parking enforcement workers. They would begin the program as warning-based for a set period of time; Tickets would relay a mild warning to vehicle owners that they will receive a fine the next time they exceed the time limit.

Alderwoman Chris Beer said the idea was positive.

"I like that part of it," Beer said. "It's going to be a learning curve for everybody."

Alderman Tom Miller disagreed with the decision to hire an outside company.

"I don't think we need to have someone monitoring parking constantly," Miller said.

He asked why a Monroe Police officer would not be unable to randomly drive through the Square throughout the day with equipment that automatically reads the position of a car and its license plate to track when a time limit has expired. However, Bauman and Beer said hiring an additional officer, a new squad car and the equipment would cost more than hiring Republic.

The recommendation was sent to the Finance and Taxation Committee, which will decide how the vendor's services will be funded.

However, the question of what rules the ambassadors will be enforcing is still unanswered.

Time limits had been discussed by the committee before, but members have not been able to pick a specific amount of time, only settling with two or three hours as a benchmark. Other aldermen have suggested longer time periods.

A sticking point for the group was also what constitutes a block. If the ordinance states that a parked car must move "off the block" after the time limit expires, Bauman said some may interpret the definition of a block differently than others. She added that the city will still need to pin down concise wording to describe the area.