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Bel Air to raise hourly parking garage fee to 50 cents

The public parking garage fee in Bel Air is expected to increase to 50 cents per hour beginning July 1.

Town commissioners discussed the increase during a budget work session at town hall Tuesday afternoon. They are expected to vote on the town's final budget at the May 21 town meeting. If the budget passes as expected, the parking fee increase will take effect.

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The current 25-cent fee will thus double at the beginning of the fiscal year, Patti Cassidy, town financial officer, said.

Town Administrator Chris Schlehr explained that the increase will go toward paying debt incurred on repair projects to the parking garage, including waterproofing. The parking garage was built in 1989, a joint venture of the town and county governments, with the town owning 33 percent and the county 67 percent. They split expenses and revenue on the same percentage, with the town operating the facility.

Schlehr spoke about access to the garage and what parking will be like after the parking lot is built where the nearby BB&T bank building on Main Street is in the process of being torn down.

Schlehr explained that drivers will be able to enter the parking garage through the Main Street lot, and spaces used by the Harford County Sheriff's Office would be moved "around the corner." The main entrance to the garage is on North Hickory Avenue.

As far as the increase, Schlehr said, "Every other meter in town is 50 cents an hour."

He added that the parking garage fee was originally raised to 50 cents in 1994 but later was reduced back to 25 cents when it was found that the parking garage was used more frequently with the lower rate and the town earned more money.

The new parking lot, he continued, is "working out as we planned," and will hopefully be completed by the end of May, as the contractor budgeted 60 days, which began in late March. Only a small corner of the BB&T building was still standing early Tuesday afternoon.

Schlehr also commented that the town will ask the county permission to paint a mural on the bare block wall of the sheriff's office building that borders the new lot to the south.

He suggested that a farming theme would be appropriate for the mural, since the Tuesday farmer's market in town will use the space once it is complete.

Parking fund

Finance Director Lisa Moody told the commissioners the town hasn't seen an uptick in leases for the parking garage. She added, however, "Leases come and go."

"The economy has definitely hurt the parking fund," Moody said. "We haven't bounded back and it's probably going to be a little bit."

As of March 30, the town has earned $163,222.51 in meter collections and projects it will collect $210,000 in the coming fiscal year. Furthermore, $108,116 has been collected in parking fines and the town projects an increase, budgeting $112,000 for fiscal year 2013.

The town is projecting a very small decrease in operating funds for the parking garage in 2013 to $47,300.

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For fiscal year 2012, $47,400 was budgeted for operating funds, and $41,652.13 had been spent as of March 30.

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