HARRISBURG, Pa. -- At 11 a.m. on a Thursday morning, not a single car is parked along the street within a block of the Midtown Scholar bookstore, owned by Mayor Eric Papenfuse.
"We are here on Third Street at a bank of completely empty meters," Papenfuse exclaims, waving his arms to show the barren road behind him.
"Enforcement was a problem but people are paying tickets now. And it's still going to be a problem," Papenfuse says of the city's current parking plight. "We're still going to fall millions of dollars short."
The Mayor is referring to the city's parking revenue projections, given to him at the start of the year by the Harrisburg Parking Authority. Papenfuse was told projections would jump around 60% to a $22 million revenue intake. Instead, data supplied to FOX43 by the city's parking manager SP Plus shows the city generated $19.7 million. The lack of proper revenue has exacerbated Harrisburg's budgetary woes. Papenfuse estimates a $6 million deficit going into next year.
"This is a real problem for the city. We need to hold somebody accountable for those projections," he says. "It seems to me those projections were artificially inflated to make it seem that the strong plan would work and make it acceptable for city council."
SP Plus has tried to lessen the burden on people, whether they live or work in downtown or midtown Harrisburg or are coming in for a restaurant. A "Happy Hour Rate" was recently installed, lowering parking prices by a dollar between 5pm and 7pm on Monday through Saturday. Parking in Midtown is free for the first 15 minutes, and this week, the Parking Authority announced a five-minute grace period on all expired meters. Drivers will avoid a parking ticket as long as they return within five minutes after their meter expires, says John Gass of Trimont Real Estate, whose company owns the state's private parking partner PK Harris.
However, no matter where you go in Harrisburg, one of residents' biggest complaints always centers around parking. Either it costs too much ($3 an hour downtown), or meter officers give tickets too quickly.
"It's hard to pay for parking. I' m a single mother and I'm struggling," says Sharon Houssou of Harrisburg. "Saturdays should be free; that's my biggest complaint. People want to come into the city and enjoy the city."
Mayor Papenfuse, standing along an empty Third Street, wants more people to visit Harrisburg, as well. That is why he proposed a idea to the Pennsylvania Economic Development Finance Agency at a meeting Wednesday night. In order to increase street parking, he wants to give city residents a discounted street meter rate. This way, he says, "transient" or visiting drivers will be more inclined to use one of Harrisburg's nine parking garages instead of trying to find street parking.
"SP Plus and PK Harris will work with the mayor's office to determine a plan for this program and assess its viability," Gass wrote in a statement to FOX43.
Papenfuse responded, "When the money doesn't come in and you have a huge deficit, you spend all your time pinching every penny.
"When you're trying to cut back instead of scaling up and building the capacity the city needs, it can be frustrating."