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The city Legal and Finance Committee approved an allocation of $713,000 for 620 new smart parking meters in downtown Rapid City. 

Visitors to downtown Rapid City could soon be feeding a meter when parking on Main and St. Joseph streets. 

During the city's Legal and Finance meeting on Wednesday, the committee unanimously approved a $713,000 allocation to purchase 620 smart parking meters. The issue will go before the city council during their meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. 

If approved, the meters could be placed as early as June along Main and St. Joseph streets between Fifth and Ninth streets and along Sixth, Seventh and Ninth streets in the downtown area. 

The new meters would allow users to pay via credit card, coin, mobile app or digital wallet. Similar meters are in use in downtown Sioux Falls and some areas in Deadwood. 

Rapid City's Long Range Planner Sarah Hanzel said the proposal was the result of hours of community meetings, a summer pilot program and extensive study of downtown Rapid City's parking problems. 

From that information, Hanzel said city officials gleaned two parking complaints from business owners and downtown visitors.

"One is that meters aren't in the right locations to manage parking effectively, and they are also inconvenient to use," she said. 

Hanzel said the new meters will alleviate those concerns and encourage turnover of parking spots in front of businesses. 

But what Hanzel is most excited about is the convenience the mobile app could provide. 

With the app, users can automatically add more time to their parking meter and will get notices when time is running out. 

Funding for the meters could come through a separate committee action that still must be approved by the full council.

After voting to authorize the purchase of the new meters, the committee voted to authorize the use of a Vision Fund allocation for a downtown parking ramp in 2005 to call outstanding parking revenue bonds.

Under this action, the city would pay $1.64 million on June 1 to call the remainder of a bond borrowed in 2008 to build the third level of a downtown ramp.

City Finance Officer Pauline Sumption said by calling the bond now and paying off the debt early, the city would save $1.7 million in interest payments. It would also allow flexibility in using the cash on hand, roughly $900,000, to purchase new parking meters. 

City Councilman Steve Laurenti called the move a "no-brainer," since it saves the taxpayers money.

If this action doesn't pass the full council, the parking meters will be leased and be more costly over the life of the meters. 

Hanzel said the city worked with a parking meter company — IPS Group of San Diego — on revenue projections and found the new parking meters would pay for themselves within the first year.

A profit projection using a feature on the meters that detects the presence of a vehicle says the city stands to make $3.1 million in the first five years. The life expectancy of the meters is six to seven years.

Any profits from the meters would flow into a separate parking fund that could be used for parking maintenance, future development or adding a city parking manager to oversee city lots and enforcement.

Both Sumption and City Attorney Joel Landeen said a parking manager could work well for Rapid City and noted that Sioux Falls has one in place. 

The fee structure, time limits and other considerations with the new meters will need to be worked out through the city council. Currently, Hanzel said they are considering 25 cents per 15 minutes but a $1 minimum for credit card transactions.

A free button for quick 10 or 15 minute trips could also be programmed into the meters, according to Hanzel. 

Beyond the potential for profit, Hanzel said the data from the meters will also be valuable. 

"We will be able to know where people are parking, how long they are there and use that information for parking plans in the future," she said. 

The allocation also comes with new software that would allow city parking tickets to be paid online and three new pay stations at a parking ramp near Main Street Square. 

For employees and residents downtown, the city is also working on a new permit process with an online application that would allow those people to park in new designated spaces just outside of where these meters are but still downtown. 

City officials believe there will be no change in the number of employees needed to do parking enforcement and noted that employees will still need to write tickets and collect from the new meters.

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