During its regular meeting Tuesday night, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved on first reading a change to city code, eliminating the tiered system and replacing it with the flat rate fee. The change comes with the recommendation of the Downtown Kingsport Association, the Kingsport Police Department and city staff.
Sherri Mosley, executive director of the DKA, said the main reason for the change is to encourage employees of downtown businesses — especially along Broad and Market streets — not to park in the spaces along the street, directly in front of the buildings.
“Our parking spaces on Broad and Market are for our customers. We have enough parking spaces that are free for our employees,” Mosley said. “The $6 parking ticket is just frivolous. We need something with just a little more bite.”
Mayor Dennis Phillips said the goal is to keep employees from parking in those spaces six to eight hours a day.
“What they do is go out and move the cars every two hours. To enforce that, the city would have to have an officer stand on Broad Street all day, watching people move their cars from one spot to the other,” Phillips said. “That’s a boring job ... just to write them a ticket.”
Kingsport Police Officer Mike Roark said the tiered system for parking violations has five levels. First offense is a warning, second offense is a $6 fine, third offense is $8, fourth offense is $13 and fifth offense or more is $26. The KPD goes back only 12 months when determining the level of offense.
In the last 12 months, the KPD has issued 372 parking tickets, with 58 percent of those cited receiving warnings, but 15 percent had five or more citations. Some motorists had six or seven citations while the worst offender had eight.
Under the current system, the one officer at the KPD responsible for downtown parking violations has to keep up with whether a motorist has prior violations and ticket accordingly.
Roark said the flat rate fee of $25 will allow the KPD to be more productive and take less time in enforcing violations.
Mosley and Phillips both say there are plenty of free parking lots in the downtown area for people to park in.
Kingsport has at least 10 lots in the downtown area where people can park their vehicles for free, without having to adhere to the two-hour limit for most on-street parking.
The most notable lot is the recently constructed parking garage on Shelby Street, which has more than 380 parking spaces and on most days sits half-full, city officials say.
In addition, every downtown business can request five parking passes from the city to distribute to customers who intend to park downtown for more than two hours.
The orange passes hang by the rear-view mirror and allow customers to park downtown all day if necessary without fear of being ticketed.
“A lot of new businesses don’t realize that, and I’ve been going door to door with merchants, letting them know about the passes,” Mosley said.
The change to the parking fine system will require a second vote by the BMA, now scheduled for Aug. 20. Phillips said during Tuesday’s meeting the city would be looking at some way to accommodate people with vehicles who live in the downtown area.
“The only thing that’s going to correct (the situation) is instilling in everyone that the prime spots should be for the customers,” Phillips said.