Kutztown business owners raised concerns about metered parking in the lot at South Whiteoak and Sander Alley to Borough Council on Oct. 15.
Use and enforcement of the kiosks was supposed to begin that day, but a software issue is pushing that back until the following week. There is a problem with the uplink.
“They’re having problems with the credit card vendor,” said Kutztown Police Chief Craig Summers. “They can’t accept any money.”
A pair of kiosks were installed at the municipal lot, in the process of converting the lot from two-hour parking to metered parking, which has been in the works since 2017, according to council minutes.
An ordinance was approved Sept. 17 setting the fees and regulations regarding the lot, establishing that the first 15 minutes in the lot are free and each 15-minute duration after costs 25 cents. The kiosks accept quarters and can be paid via credit card or phone as well.
Business owners located nearby told council they’ve seen a sharp decrease in the number of cars parking in the lot since the kiosks were installed and have heard largely negative feedback.
“Even though you’re not charging yet, I’ve noticed four different times there were no cars in that lot,” said Chris Holt, owner of Young Ones at 26 South Whiteoak. “My business has been there six years, and never, ever have I seen zero cars in that lot.”
Holt worries the change will have a negative impact on the borough itself.
“I think that the negativity about this lot is leading people not to come to Kutztown at all,” said Holt, adding that, historically, most of his business comes from out-of-town. “I don’t really have much of a student business, but, all of a sudden, my business is skewed towards the student side because a lot of people aren’t coming anymore.”
Joe Dietrich, owner of Salon Joey at 310 West Main, about a block from the municipal lot, asked the borough what the motivation for the change was and who it helps.
“Honestly, Joe, it helps you, because if you have a customer who’s there longer than two hours, then they get a ticket, and they complain about the ticket. Now, they can stay there for longer than two hours, pay a couple dollars, and they can stay there all day,” said Summers.
Dietrich, though, said he’s received “backlash” since the parking change.
“It’s my understanding that the problem was students parking in that lot, but now the problem has been moved to Noble Street, to Whiteoak Street, to Main Street,” Dietrich said.
Summers said, though, he saw a multitude of spaces open downtown on Monday, when KU was on fall break.
“It’s cheap, it’s a buck an hour, but it’s an inconvenience,” Dietrich said.
“Are you going to pay people a buck and a half if they came, right? Because that’s what I’m going to do,” said Council President Kevin Snyder, owner of Adam ‘N Eve Boutique, 309 West Main, across from Dietrich’s business.
“That’s what I’m doing,” said Dietrich. “But I shouldn’t have to do that.”
Dietrich also raised worries that meters could be installed on Main Street, which council said is not planned.
“I already told the chief and everybody else, over my dead body,” Snyder said regarding the installation of meters on Main Street.
Justin Shenk, owner of Business Link at 314 West Main, urged the borough to take the feedback from business owners into consideration.
“What I want to ask of all of you is to listen to these concerns,” Shenk said. “Don’t laugh about them, because these are things we are hearing from our clients. I’m hearing every day from my clients, especially those with mobility issues, how parking has become more of a challenge.”
In other news, Kutztown Fire Company requested the borough increase its fire tax from 0.4 mills to one mill.
“Their expenses are just continually going up,” said Edwin Seyler, councilman.
Kutztown Fire Chief Eric Diehl explained that the fire tax has not been increased in about 12 years, and fire apparatus will soon need to be replaced, as will equipment.
“We’ve talked to the fire truck manufacturers, and there’s a guaranteed 2 1/2 to 3 ½ percent increase in the cost of a fire truck every year,” said Diehl. “In the last 10 years, there’s been a 25 to 35 percent increase in the cost of a truck.”
The fire company has six pieces of apparatus – an engine, ladder, rescue, tanker, brush truck and a duty officer’s car. The ladder was purchased brand new in 2017 at a cost of around $900,000, and is still being paid off, Diehl said. The engine, a 2010, is scheduled to be replaced in the next four years and the tanker in about five years after, he added.
The cost of apparatus isn’t the only concern.
“Just so everybody knows, just to equip one firefighter to go inside a burning building, it’s approximately $12,000 per person,” Diehl said.
The fire company requested an increase from 0.4 mills to one mill. Currently, according to the borough’s 2019 budget, the tax brings in $72,000. The increase, as requested, would bring in an additional $108,000. The borough’s finance committee, though, recommended a .25 increase, to .65 mills, an additional $45,000 for the fire company.
The fire company also receives funding from Maxatawny and Greenwich townships, and Kutztown University. Maxatawny has a .36 mill fire tax, and Greenwich a .3 mill fire tax, both of which Diehl said they want increased.
KU contracts with the fire company for fire and rescue services at a cost of $75,000 a year. “They are maintaining that amount, even though their enrollment has drastically decreased,” Diehl said.
The borough intends to raise the tax when they approve the 2020 budget, instructing the borough manager, Gabriel Khalife, to include the increase in the 2020 tax ordinance.
Keith Mooney, borough solicitor, said that was all council could do, as they could not approve the increase at the Oct. 15 meeting.
Seyler also stressed that the fire tax revenues go toward the firefighting expenses of the fire company, not the social hall operations.
“None of this fire tax, in the past or in the future, goes to the social quarters for them. This is all for the trucks and the firemen,” said Seyler.
In other news, Kutztown Community Partnership President Jerry Schearer informed Council that the construction of a pocket park on Strasser Alley, near Main Street, is scheduled to be complete by the Christmas in Kutztown event Dec. 7.
KCP recently purchased a bike rack, benches, and lights through grants and private donations. The block was recently resurfaced. The pocket park will be taken down (benches, bike rack, etc.) after Christmas in Kutztown and brought back up in the early Spring. This will allow the Borough to plow as needed in the alley way during the winter.
“We have multiple partners coming together, including grants, to make the town a little more walkable and liveable,” Schearer said.