City Council reviews changes to payment system at Prince George Parking Garage

Staff writer

Williamsburg IT Director Mark Barham explained recent changes to the payment system at the downtown Prince George Parking Garage to City Council at its monthly meeting Thursday.

As part of a larger initiative to improve the turnover rates at downtown parking lots, the city revamped the payment system at the parking garage in January, removing the entrance gates and installing license plate readers. Unlike the numbered parking lots scattered throughout downtown Williamsburg that are owned by Colonial Williamsburg, the three-level Prince George Parking Garage is owned and operated by the city.

“If we were going to make changes to the parking system, we said that they needed to have one goal or outcome, and that was to make the parking experience in the city of Williamsburg positive,” said City Manager Andrew Trivette. “We’re not there yet, and we recognize that, but we’re working toward it every day.”

Last month, the city announced it would change the payment process to allow garage users to only have to use a pay station once after parking rather than checking in after parking and again before leaving. This was due to complaints that the city received about the prior system from residents attending downtown events, Barham said.

“With every implementation of this type or any time you’re taking out extremely old equipment and replacing it with new technology, there are issues and we have not been immune from those issues by any stretch,” he said.

Other changes that were implemented include an auto-pay system, he said. Drivers can create an online account to link their cars to a credit or debit card so garage fees are withdrawn automatically. Barham said about 530 people have created online parking garage accounts since the program went live earlier this year.

Downtown employees and college students can also purchase monthly and semester-long parking passes for the garage.

Drivers without online accounts who don’t visit a pay station are simply mailed a bill for their time parked in the garage, he said. While that option may be easiest for garage users, he said it has put a strain on the city’s finance and police departments.

“That’s presenting a significant amount of workload on those two departments, so we’re looking at ways to mitigate this,” Barham said. “Those might include third-party billing services or additional staff. We’re still investigating that.”

He also said he expects a fourth payment option to become available within two to three months, allowing drivers to pay for their time in the garage through a smartphone app called Passport. One difference, however, is a 35-cent convenience fee added to each transaction on the app, he said.

Mayor Paul Freiling said he was glad to hear about the progress that has been made and that he sees it as an improvement over the previous payment system.

“At times, it could be a real mess and all that has gone away, and so on the whole, I’m not dealing with everything that staff is dealing with, but from what I see anecdotally, it seems to be a much better overall situation,” he said. “We appreciate the implementation so far, but it’s clear that we’ve got work to do.”

City Council also approved the purchase of a new $245,340 sewer flusher unit for the city’s Public Works Department, which will be used for routine sewer cleaning and to clear blockages, Public Works Director Dan Clayton said. The new unit will replace the department’s existing model from 1990, he said.

Finally, the board unanimously signed off on two changes to the city code in response to newly-enacted legislation resulting from the 2019 General Assembly regular session.

These included House Bill 1655, which allows the surviving spouse of a military member who was either killed or severely disabled while in action or to be exempted from paying real property taxes so long as the spouse does not remarry.

“There’s no way to repay the debt that we owe to these folks, but I do wish that at some point, the General Assembly would give serious consideration for what they could do at the state level to do the same thing instead of always coming back to the localities,” Freiling said.

Another bill, Senate Bill 1425, affects how food trucks are taxed in the state. As City Attorney Chris Shelton explained, the city code will be amended to reflect the new law, which requires that a newly established food truck only pay license taxes in the jurisdiction that the truck is registered in for its first two years in operation, beginning from the date of the first license tax payment.

Rodrigo Arriaza, rarriaza@vagazette.com, 757-790-9313, @rodrigoarriaza0

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