JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson city councilmen on Tuesday did something the city hasn’t managed to accomplish in decades: approving a bid to modernize and replace its downtown parking meters, which in turn could bring millions annually to the Capital City’s coffers.
Jordan Hillman, the city’s newly-confirmed director of planning and development, said the proposal from Duncan Parking Technologies and parent company CivicSmart satisfied all of the department’s requirements and offered a significantly cheaper price than the other four companies vying for the opportunity.
“First year, everything’s being done with a maximum amount of $110,000, so it is a shoestring project to get it all kicked off again," Hillman said, referring to the first phase of the project, which involves replacing meters along Capitol Street. "Then, as that revenue comes back in, it allows us to finish off the rest of the system.”
The new features will include credit card compatibility, smartphone connectivity (which allows users to add time to an expiring meter and see which parking spaces are vacant) and greater enforcement tools.
The city of Jackson currently employs two parking enforcement officers.
The new system would allow those officers to see which meters are expired at a glance, thanks to an electronic network and vehicle proximity sensors that will be used with the new meters.
The city’s request for proposal -- its second under Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba -- states that approximately 100 to 150 meters will be used for the first phase on Capitol Street.
Eventually, Hillman said, the replacement of all the city’s meters could lead to nearly $2 million in revenue annually.
A 3 On Your Side analysis of parking meter revenue revealed that, from 2006 to 2016, Jackson never received more than $200,000, and that amount has dropped even more in recent years.
“Over the past 20 years, we’ve lost about $400,000 in revenue overall,” Hillman said. “We’re gonna finish this year with about $95,000 in revenue from parking meters. That’s about a 22 cents per meter per day return.”
Compare that with 3 On Your Side’s own research from 2016 that indicated a return of nearly 75 cents per meter per day.
Hillman maintains that the biggest reason for the upgraded meters isn’t revenue.
“The first goal we established in the plan was actually to create parking turnover in on-street parking,” Hillman said. “On-street parking is intended for turnover parkers. It’s not intended for 8-hour parking.”
While Lumumba told 3 On Your Side last month he believed the new system would be live in November, Hillman told councilmembers at Tuesday’s meeting that it would be up and running in January of next year.
She said the November estimate is a very hopeful one.
Previous timelines provided by city leaders have since come and gone.
Chief Administrative Officer Robert Blaine told 3 On Your Side in September 2018 that the new parking meter project would debut in February 2019 -- in Fondren.
In March, one month after the new meters were promised, the Fondren pilot program was later shelved in favor of Capitol Street because of what former Planning and Development Director Mukesh Kumar called “community concerns.”
At that point, Kumar also said in a written statement that the city was “very close” to making the project public, which it did in August.
“The parking meter plan recommended that we hold off to do the Fondren meters, until after this pilot program, and actually take steps to have a meeting with the Fondren business community and the residents about what their needs actually are, because those needs might be very different than the downtown district,” Hillman said.
Though Hillman said she was not involved in the project's first request for proposals, or RFP, she said the second request, issued in April, focused less on privatization and more on the city retaining its own staff to implement and monitor the new meters, making the program sustainable for years to come.
“Much of what led to the program’s [current] condition was a lack of coordination between the entities that did various things. Court services handled ticketing. Police department handled meter enforcement. Public Works handled meter maintenance,” Hillman said. “But none of those things had one leader, one policy that tied it all together. So as budget cuts happened, as positions were eliminated, as revenue started to fall, connecting the dots was very difficult."
One added bonus: the city’s current, outdated meters are manufactured by Duncan as well, which should make conversion and retrofitting the equipment much easier.
Hillman said parking rates will increase through an ordinance proposed before the council sometime in the future, but did not have a specific date.
Currently, the city’s parking meters charge 50 cents per hour.
Hillman said that will be doubled -- pending council approval -- to be more in line with national rates.
In turn, a portion of that revenue will be used to ensure the system -- and the city’s 1,100+ meters -- work.
“We will never let the meters get into the condition that they are [in] today,” she said.