No vote was taken, and the council is expected to make a final decision by the end of the year when it adopts a budget for 2013. But a majority of council members backed the plan, proposed last week by Mayor Stephen Buxbaum.
The mayor and other council members have been looking for a way to replace the downtown pay stations, which some customers say are difficult and inconvenient to use.
Tuesday night, City Manager Steve Hall gave the council the estimated bill: $680,000. In an interview later, city planning director Keith Stahley said the actual estimate is about $683,000, including the meters, the poles they sit on, the removal of the pay stations and patching the sidewalks where the stations are removed.
If the council moves forward, the pay stations could be gone by the middle of next year, Stahley said in an interview.
Buxbaum balked at the price Tuesday, saying it was higher than he was expecting. He suggested the city replace the pay stations “in strategic areas,” in a phased removal.
But Stahley suggested the city remove all the pay stations at once rather than bid multiple projects.
The city’s parking account has about $650,000 that could pay for the meters, and the rest could come from future parking revenues, Stahley said. He said the city will pursue “secondary markets” for the pay stations, but he was unsure how much money they would fetch.
Councilwoman Jeannine Roe, who said she hates the pay stations and that one recently rejected her card, said they all need to go at once.
“I think that as painful as it is to have to pay this much money again for a parking station downtown, it’s about ripping off a Band-Aid very slowly or quickly,” she said, “and if we keep ’em down there it’s just going to be a slow rip for the next 30 years. So I say rip it off now and get it over with.”
Councilman Jim Cooper was the lone council member to object to removing the pay stations.
“Ours work every time I’ve used them,” he said, and “I think it’s important that we realize that this is the style of parking system that is in the major metropolitan areas of America.”
“I don’t think we are a major metropolitan city,” she said. “We never, hopefully, will be.”
Cooper said meters, several per block, would be ugly compared with the pay stations, which are one per block.
“It’s going to be an eyesore,” he said.
Buxbaum said he wanted to make sure the Olympia Downtown Association and Parking and Business Improvement Area are “fully on board” with the meters before moving ahead.
About 50 pay stations were installed just two years ago, the brainchild of a council with completely different members. The city borrowed $725,000 in 2010 to buy and install them and expected to pay more than $800,000, including interest, which it would pay back with proceeds from the stations.
They were placed in a zone that formerly offered free parking for two hours.
Council members at the time was trying to prevent downtown employees from parking on the street and taking up space from customers. Members also wanted to charge people to park because they wanted to build the first city-owned parking garage and didn’t need free spaces competing with it.
But plans for the parking garage fell through when the economy tanked and the council focused on adding surface-parking options for employee parking.
The pay stations and surface parking solved the employee parking problem, but customers and businesses complained that the pay stations were hard to use. They had a dim display and were difficult to navigate, especially in the frequent rain.
The city added signs and tweaked the displays, but complaints persisted.
Buxbaum has said he has been looking for a way to replace them since before he took office as a council member in 2010.
Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869