Columnist Nick Seamon: Parking a needed service, not for revenue

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The cat is out of the bag. It was reported earlier this month that the town of Amherst rakes in a cool million dollars from parking fees and fines every year (“Broken Amherst parking machine leads to $100,000 deficit,” Sept. 8).

And now, the town is going to double the meter fees in the core, in order to rake in hundreds of thousands more (“Select Board supports parking recommendations,” Sept. 22). Where does this money go, exactly?

During my six years on the parking commission, and another six years on the Town Commercial Relations Committee, I was told repeatedly by town officials that the town of Amherst only collected enough money from parking meters in order to pay for, and support the system. No profit in it at all for the town. Really?

It costs $1 million each year to pay a few meter people, buy and maintain some equipment, and pay for a little administration? Really? I want that job.

At one of our parking commission meetings years ago, then-Town Manager Barry Del Castilho said “You know, if we raise the meter rates by 10 cents per hour the town will realize another $85,000 in revenue.” Now, they want to raise the meter rates by 50 cents per hour to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the general fund.

The bottom line problem here is that the town of Amherst looks at parking as a revenue generator for the town, while the business community sees parking as a necessary service and convenience for its customers.

The town of Amherst should only realize revenue from its commercial sector from property taxes, and not by overly taxing the customers, tourists and visitors who want to enjoy our town. Our signs should say “Welcome to Amherst. This will cost you.”

In 1980, 20 percent of the town of Amherst’s tax collection was received from commercial sources. Over the last 35 years, town government, especially Town Meeting, has encouraged and overseen the reduction of this figure to just 5 percent. If you need help with the math, just ask me, or the tax collector.

We are now, in a practical way, a residential-only town. Any talk of “supporting our downtown” and “supporting local businesses” is just lip service.

The real service that the town should provide is to build a multideck parking garage in the CVS Pharmacy lot.

Nick Seamon, of Leverett, owns The Black Sheep deli and bakery at 79 Main St. in Amherst.