Kolton's ideas, thoughts and opinions

10 Oct

Parking Continues to Dominant Common Council

A crowd of people showed up to Whitewater’s Oct. 3 common council meeting to protest an ordinance that would allow the city to rescind the status of landmarks, but it was the university’s parking changes that made the most noise.

For the second common council meeting in a row it was the University of Wisconsin Whitewater’s decision to remove parking meters on the city owned Prince and Prairie Streets that was the main focus of the meeting. Chancellor Beverly Kopper, Vice Chancellor of Administrative Affairs Grace Crickett and Police Services Chief Matthew Kiederlen were all in attendance to defend the university’s decision.

Kopper made a short statement to the council to introduce the university’s defense to the changes, but most of the talking was done by Kiederlen.

The University of Wisconsin Whitewater and the city of Whitewater signed a Memorandum of Understanding in June 2012, that stated the university could charge for parking on the two streets and in exchange they paid the city $40,000 per year. Members of the council, especially Ald. James Allen, have called the parking enforcement a “double taxation” with the university charging patrons to park on city streets.

Over the summer the university switched the parking stalls on the two streets from meter parking to pass parking. The council questioned whether or not the university was allowed to make these changes without consulting the city first.

Kiederlen read the MOU during the council meeting to argue that the university did have the right.

“The city will not be responsible for any parking enforcement for the university-leased spaces,” Kiederlen said. “We decided that we could make these changes.”

Ald. Stephanie Goettl (District 5) said the biggest problem with the new changes is the lack of handicap parking on the two streets. Under current law if a vehicle has a disability license plate they are allowed to use meter parking without fear of being ticketed, but since the removal of the meters there are significantly fewer handicapped stalls available. In a school like UW-Whitewater that is so focused on being handicap accessible it’s an odd change to make.

Kopper, Kiederlen and Crickett also defended the university’s decision to raise all parking prices. The price of parking tickets, day passes and the yearly pass all went up for the 2017 fall semester. Goettl said it was an “unreasonable” increase. The university argued that all these changes were made to make parking more self-sustaining.

“Parking needs to be self-sustaining.” Crickett said.  “Even prior to me coming here – I’ve been here two months – the campus was working on moving to a self-sustaining model so we can direct resources to student success, to student housing, to other infrastructure.”

Goettl also asked the university trio if the increase to the ticket prices was needed. Later she asked what the expected impact of the increased tickets would be and what the university expected to make in parking ticket revenue.

“In a perfect world we don’t look at fines as a revenue source.” Kiederlen responded. “In a perfect parking situation we would never even have to ticket.”

The council brought up other problems that have raised since the changes have gone into effect. Such as neighboring streets and the lot at Starin Park being constantly filled now to decreased spaces.

“Maybe it’s coincidental, but Franklin Street used to have almost no university parking on it,” Ald. Lynn Binnie (District 4) said. “Now, probably a third of that street is routinely parked on. Even more than that, the lot in Starin Park adjacent to Starin Road is filled, or very close to filled.”

The university did not have an answer to the parking problems on the neighboring streets. The university also stated they would negotiate a new MOU with the city, or, if the city wanted to, they would give parking regulation on Prince and Prairie Street back to the city.

Landmarks

The other major point of the council meeting was the ordinance that allowed the City of Whitewater to rescind the status of a landmark for any reason. The ordinance died on the floor because it did not have a second council back the measure.

The ordinance, proposed by Ald. Chris Grady (District 3), met backlash as a crowd of about 20 Whitewater citizens stood outside of the Municipal Building holding signs saying things like “save our landmarks” and “what’s wrong with landmarks”. The crowd piled into the council meeting and left happy as the ordinance did not receive a second backer.

Grady made his case, stating that people had been “misinformed” when it came to the ordinance. He stated that the goal was to make sure the city of Whitewater would not be forced to pay for the replacement of a landmark if for some reason it was destroyed.

Goettl refuted Grady’s point saying that if this was the goal of the ordinance he needs to change the wording and make it state that the city could only rescind the landmark status in case of a disaster.

Most of those protesting the new ordinance left the meeting after it did not receive a second backer.

Budget

During the council meeting City Manager Cameron Clapper went through his proposed changes to the city budget.

The proposed budget is at $9,174,846 which is about $30,000 less than 2017. Internal revenues and taxes account for 87 percent of revenues. Administration and public safety account for 53 percent of expenditures.

City transfers have been reduced by about $50,000. This will effect things like the city cable station, parking permit fees, trail funds and state parks. The city of Whitewater receives extra shared revenue from the state of Wisconsin because of the power plant in town, but those extra funds are being reduced each year as the plant reduces in value, the city will receive $40,000 less in 2018 than it did in 2017 due to this depreciation.

The cities transportation budget has also been reduced.

The city will give its employees a 1.5 percent wage increase, but they will require city employees to pay a higher percentage of their health insurance. In 2017 employees paid 12 percent and that will increase to 15 percent.

The budget also calls for Whitewater to hire its human resources coordinator full-time instead of part-time. Even though the budget is lower than last year Clapper reminded its citizens that Whitewater’s property taxes are the lowest in the area of cities of comparable size.

The city also proposed a contract with a financial advisory service that would help the city plan long term.

This was just a proposed budget by Clapper and discussions will continue at the next couple council meetings.

In other news, during the open session Whitewater citizen and former UW-Whitewater professor Pam Zarinnia made a case that the crosswalk on Main Street in front of Anderson Library needs to be addressed. Zarinnia reminded the council that a student was killed on that crosswalk not too long ago, and she argued that the pedestrian crossing does not provide enough safety.

“We’re going to have another dead person not very long in the future.” Zarinnia said.

Zarinnia had a backer in Goettl who brought up the point that she was in a car accident at that cross walk because a car did not stop for a pedestrian. No action was able to be taken because this topic was not on the agenda. I have been told by multiple people that a person was hit in that crosswalk since Tuesday’s meeting, but was unable to confirm whether or not this was true.

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