Since at least 1971 Missoula has levied a $2 fine on parking meter violators, but city officials claim the amount is no longer enough to deter offenders—of which there are many. Now local lawmakers find themselves considering a proposal to increase the stakes.
"There should be some kind of stick," says Missoula Parking Commissioner Anne Guest.
Last week City Councilman Bob Jaffe floated a proposal that would create a tiered parking fine system. The first meter violation ticket would start low, at perhaps $2. From there, fines would increase for each subsequent violation within a one-year period, going to $4 for the second offense and so on.
The ordinance's primary goal is to discourage those who work downtown from parking in spots that Jaffe and Guest believe should be saved for people who spend money downtown.
"The street spots in front of the stores really are for shoppers," Jaffe says. "When downtown workers are using those spots, they shouldn't be."
Jaffe argues that downtown workers should park in outlying areas—in metered 10-hour spots on Railroad Street and in the Central Park parking garage on Main Street, for example.
Jaffe and Guest hope that freeing up additional parking in Missoula's urban core will further encourage locals to patronize downtown retailers and restaurants.
City leaders thus far are voicing broad support for the tiered fine proposal, saying it's been a long time coming. However, discord exists over where the fine scale should start. That debate centers on whether the first violation should be free or begin somewhere between $2 and $5. "That's kind of the point of controversy," Jaffe says.
Guest is pushing for $5. That's reasonable, she says, in light of the fact that meter violations in other Montana communities average $15.
The city's Public Works Committee will again take up the issue on April 13.