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Missouri House considers prohibiting parking meters on public streets

by Cameron Gerber | February 2, 2023 at 4:01 a.m.
State Rep. Tony Lovasco, R-O’Fallon, speaks during floor debate in May 2022 in the Missouri House. (Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications photo)

Missouri lawmakers are considering prohibiting governments from enacting or collecting parking fees on public streets and roads.

Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin and other officials pushed back Wednesday.

Tergin said the bill would cause harm to local businesses while taking away local governments' ability to govern themselves based on their individual circumstances.

A longtime local business owner herself, Tergin said meters were vital to ensuring parking turnover for businesses and that without them, the spots would likely fill before business owners or lawmakers could even get to them.

"Let the municipality decide what works for them because what works for another town is not going to work in Jefferson City, where we are surrounded by hundreds of people and state offices," she said. "It's not going to work for us -- what we have works.

"It's an important balance between the long and short term, and I'm willing and able to work with all of you on some ideas to keep Jefferson City at the forefront to make it easy for people to do business in Jefferson City. And if this bill passes, you won't even have to worry about that $5 ticket. You won't even get the ticket, because you won't have a spot to park since the state offices are going to open before you even get here."

She said officials from the Capital City and other communities should be at the table to find solutions for parking issues. She also noted that, while Jefferson City doesn't rely on bonds for its parking, other municipalities do rely on that revenue.

And with the wide array of causes for someone to be in town, whether they're locals or shoppers or lawmakers themselves, she said the current structure allows for flexibility.

"Jefferson City wants to partner with the state; we work very well together," she said. "We have our downtown businesses, restaurants, banks, offices, churches, coffee shops and residential people who live upstairs. We have tourists and visitors, legislators and their staff, state employees and much more than that. So what we have works and allows us to provide a mix of long- and short-term parking."

During her near half-hour appearance before the House Government Efficiency and Downsizing Committee on Wednesday afternoon, Tergin said the city has taken steps to update its parking situation. Recent innovations include the implementation of an app and extending the length of time drivers can park in a spot, as well as a 90-minute free parking period in the downtown area in front of stores.

The bill, HB 246, was sponsored by Rep. Josh Hurlbert, R-Smithville. He said the parking meter structure was outdated and that local governments could instead enforce parking through time limits detailed via signs or other means.

"I argue that the parking meter is an outdated method of funding infrastructure that has already been paid for through tax revenues a city has already received. In our modern society, it is no longer a benefit to our municipalities, and is increasingly becoming a net revenue drag for them to maintain," Hulbert said. "Whether it's a certain time of day or night or just in general, I think these parking meters are actually more of a deterrent and actually a net drag on small businesses than if you had just a two-hour zone or something that you could kind of roughly enforce."

Other lawmakers, including O'Fallon Republican Rep. Tony Lovasco, agreed that meters were a relic of the past and said they were a barrier to those traveling here to participate in governmental discourse.

"If there's anything even remotely controversial happening in the Capitol, constituents have to park a pretty good distance away, and we don't have a lot of parking on the facility and directly around it to begin with," he said. "And when the only available spaces are meters, then people have to frequently leave the building to feed them. You're kind of in a situation where you're effectively charging people to participate in their government. I don't think that's very fair."

Tergin wasn't alone in her opposition to Hurlbert's efforts.

St. Louis Treasurer Adam Layne said a bill at least partially filed with the Capital City's unique position as the seat of government in mind wouldn't fit the circumstances of other communities like his. He said parking enforcement was essential to ensuring turnover and space around sports and concert venues in St. Louis, while noting constituents actually asked the city for more enforcement to keep things moving.

Shannon Cooper, a lobbyist testifying on behalf of Kansas City, said parking meters simply worked for the major metro.

Missouri Municipal League Executive Director Richard Sheets acknowledged that many of his group's members had opted to do away with meters, but said the decision should ultimately lie with the local governments rather than a statewide one-size-fits-all approach.

"Our cities certainly evaluate parking in their communities and determine the best way to handle that. It varies, and I think that's why it needs to continue to be in local hands," Sheets said. "In the Kansas City area, Jefferson City, Columbia, an issue is limited parking. That's not everywhere in our state, so those city councils have to decide what is best for their community."

The committee did not take action on the bill Wednesday.

HB 246: Changes the law regarding fees by prohibiting fees for parking on public streets or roads

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