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City faces challenges when it comes to downtown parking in Great Falls

Posted at 4:02 PM, May 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-21 18:02:27-04

COVID-19 restrictions and closures are causing budget shortfalls for some businesses and industries across the state - and the parking program in downtown Great Falls isn’t immune.

When businesses closed due to COVID-19 in March, Great Falls city manager Greg Doyon put the brakes on paid on-street parking downtown. Now that shops and restaurants are reopening, street parking is still free.

"There's definitely challenges we need to work out,” explained Craig Raymond with the Great Falls Planning & Development Department.

One of those challenges is the meters. The key to the meters was stolen, so the city took them down to protect the money. Thankfully, no one got to the change inside. Another factor? The meters are old.

“To put them back into service, we are still working on finding new keys that will actually work. So far we haven’t found the right combination.” Raymond said.

Raymond said he knows not everyone is eager to pay for parking again, but they need the funding provided by the meters: “The revenue from the meters is roughly half that of the parking program.”

That program pays for maintenance and repairs to parking areas and garages, as well as parking attendants and enforcement staff.

People have still had to pay for lots and garages over the last two months, but revenue there has dropped too.

Revenue from garages in May of 2019 was roughly $13,000. In May of 2020 revenue was $950, down around 92%.

"Right now we're eating into our reserves,” explained Raymond. Reserve money was originally slated for garage repairs and surface lot improvements.

Raymond added if they don't start bringing in money again soon, it could potentially lead to some tough staffing decisions in the next few weeks.

"The rest of the community has been feeling the pinch when it comes to jobs and different things like that. The parking program has definitely been feeling that pinch as well,” Raymond said.

There's no timeline for when meters could be back up and running. In the meantime, the city is considering enforcing the two-hour time limit for on-street parking. If they go that route, you'll see signs posted downtown.

There are no changes for parking garages or lots. Those continue to be paid parking areas.