Trustees address parking issues

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BELLOWS FALLS — No official decision was made on Tuesday night at the Bellows Falls Board of Trustees meeting about whether to hire a parking attendant.

Bellows Falls Police Chief Ron Lake answered questions from village residents and trustees about how parking enforcement works. Lake, who has nine full-time police officers, instructs his officers to ticket whenever they have free time. He said there used to be an officer who was paid $20,000 for parking enforcement and crossing guard work. The position was cut by the village to save money. Lake said he tries to do his best with parking, but can only do so much with his limited staff.

"Ron, I'm not going to fence with you," Trustee Stefan Golec said, "but we're in a village with hard economic times."

Golec suggested that Lake do more to enforce parking without any additional money or staff. Lake said that he and his office had been working since Monday to compile a boot list. People who have four or more unpaid tickets are subject to getting their cars booted if they are parked on the street or in a municipal parking lot, Lake said. Other than that, though, Lake said he wasn't sure what else he could do.

"I'm just finding it tough to add [additional positions to the budget]," Golec said.

Golec wondered just how bad parking in the village really was. He said he'd been accused of staying in the same spot all day. What he had done in the past, he said, was park in the spot for less than two hours, move his car to go to lunch and then park in the same spot again.

"I think sometimes there's a misconception or wrong perception," he said.

Citizens like Gaetano Putignano have been complaining about parking for a while. He said he's seen cars not move for three days straight.

Trustee Deborah Wright said she was in favor of hiring a citizen parking attendant. At the Nov. 14 trustee meeting her husband, Cass Wright, offered to become the village's parking attendant without pay for the first 90 days. Deborah Wright didn't believe that the village had actually saved any money by cutting the parking attendant's position. She pointed out that the cost of the police department has gone up every year anyway.

Wright thought it was a waste of resources to have officers ticketing vehicles. A citizen attendant, she said, could also be paid less because crossing guard duties aren't needed anymore. The Windham Southeast Supervisory Union pays for schools to have crossing guards now, Wright said. She said the village could get away with paying a citizen attendant $15,000.

Wright also wanted to know how police were making sure that tickets were being paid. Municipal Manager Shane O'Keefe said there isn't much of a way to force out-of-staters to pay their tickets, but Wright didn't buy it. "Have you ever gotten a ticket from Massachusetts and tried not to pay?" she asked.

Lake argued that the technology he uses, which is from the 1990s, is too slow to properly keep track of out-of-state offenders.

The village still has made some money off of tickets. From July 1, 2006, to Nov. 20 of this year, the Village collected $70,080.24 from tickets, Lake said. Last year the village made $6,500 off of parking tickets.

Trustee Steve Adams said the interest in parking enforcement wasn't about making the village money, it was about helping the merchants.

"[Parking tickets are] never going to offset the entire piece," Adams said. "The tangible is folks in town having business up."

Harmony Birch can be reached at hbirch@reformer.com, at @Birchharmony on Twitter and 802-254-2311, Ext. 153.

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