As I have mentioned previously it is my intention to report on the proceedings of Parry Sound Council meetings by exception, when something interesting transpired. That is the case with this past Tuesday’s meeting. A meeting I expected to be over by 8:30 ended at 9:00. The reason? Free Parking. I’d like to share my observations and thoughts.

As you probably know by now Council has punted the issue of Free Parking downfield for another six months. Or perhaps you might say they ‘iced’ the issue. I was surprised, I had expected that it would be approved. I even went so far as to offer my support for Free Parking in a deputation with the suggestion we not spend $60,000 annually on a parking attendant. On principle I have opposed Free Parking from the start but have come to realize that if managed properly, with limited expenses, it might be a boon to the Parry Sound Downtown Business Association. At this time, and with the impending departure of the medical clinics, they probably need all the help they can get.

The Parry Sound Downtown Business Association did a short deputation in support of Free Parking. They indicated it was well received by the public and the merchants, and they supported its continuation. At the same time they said that the costs for Free Parking really could not be borne by the DBA members because it would raise their current DBA assessments by as much as 60%.

Well the agenda item was kicked off by Councillor Saulnier objecting to Free Parking on the grounds that the Town could not afford it. He was quite forceful in his objection. That seemed to set the tone for the discussion that followed. I mention Councillor Saulnier by name only because it is germane to a potential issue. My policy is not to identify councillors by name, that can be handled by the ‘traditional’ press if they wish to do so. I’m more interested in policy than I am personality.

Well the discussion went sideways with much more sniping than I have seen to date. Councillors suggested that proper procedure was not being followed, and the process was being subverted. From my seat in the audience I can’t agree. There were a number of items under the Free Parking resolution that really needed to be addressed separately. As was mentioned at the meeting, the resolution was more of an ‘omnibus’ type of document that should have been presented as a series of separate resolutions and directions.

In the end Council did agree to approve some minor permit issues related to parking, but the whole issue of Free Parking was put off for six months. One Councillor was ready to reject it outright, and there was another Councillor who wanted to understand how Free Parking would fit into the overall rejuvenation of the Downtown. In the end it was agreed that Free Parking would be ‘iced’ for six months while the Parry Sound Downtown Business Association and Staff prepared a plan for the Downtown’s rejuvenation, and how Free Parking fit in. Good luck with that. It will require multiple meetings, a consultant, and probably $30,000 to properly be prepared. It’s not that simple or easy to produce an integrated strategic plan for what is a real challenge.

But back to why I mentioned Counillor Saulnier by name. I think he has a conflict, that may not rise to the level of ‘pecuniary’ interest, but creates an issue that puts into question a truly impartial perspective. That is not to suggest his strong conviction the Town cannot afford Free Parking is not sincere. But there is an issue with his personal business interests and the Free Parking issue that create an apparent conflict.

Councillor Saulnier is a co-owner of Georgian Bay Airways which is located in the Town Dock area along Bay Street. His business is part of the Parry Sound Downtown Business Association, but that area of the DBA does not have metered parking. A resolution in 2014 to meter that area was roundly opposed by the business community and hastily dropped. The Georgian Bay Airways business depends in part on people parking in the area and dropping hundreds of dollars for an airplane ride. A buck or two for parking probably wouldn’t be an issue, just an inconvenience. Georgian Bay Airways also sells ice cream and drinks in the summer months to a population for whom metered parking would be more of an issue, perhaps not in terms of cost, but convenience. They probably couldn’t as easily afford to pay for a ticket. And if meters were to be installed on Bay Street I imagine people would start parking in the Island Queen lot, which would require the owners of that business to enforce parking for clients and in the end do nothing but generate ill-will with visitors and surrounding businesses. I would suggest that if Councillor Saulnier continues to argue against Free Parking that he demand metered parking be installed along Bay Street and in the Town parking lot beside his business. To do less would be hypocritical and appear to be self-serving. I suspect that this area, if metered, would turn a very nice profit given the large number of visitors there in the summer. Or it could stifle business and screw everybody.

I will make the prediction that the Town will adopt Free Parking, it just will be a very tortured process to get there. If we are to expect a report in six months that suggests it will be delivered the end of May next year. What is to be done in the meantime? Free parking? Council has previously approved Free Parking until the end of January and probably will need to pass a resolution to extend it to the end of May. But of course the end of May will be when the report is submitted; expect another two months to digest and debate the report. So we probably need to extend free parking to the end of July. Well, we can’t change parking rules in the middle of the tourist season so it needs to be extended to the end of September. Then why not to the end of the year?

I don’t support the concept of Free Parking in principle, but it really will not be that expensive if the Town manages it properly. This implies parking compliance is managed by exception. Ticket the chronic offenders. They will become very obvious, very quickly. In speaking to people after the meeting they mentioned that there are few chronic offenders who don’t mind getting a ticket. My answer to that is make the towing of offenders an option. Get ticketed for the fourth time in a 30-day period and you get towed. That may not prevent all abuse by downtown business people, but it will surely limit it to three times a month. And that probably can be absorbed by the system without inconveniencing visitors and clients.

Let’s not debate global warming, I mean Free Parking, let’s understand that it is going to happen. Let’s spend time and effort on understanding how to best manage it.

Between a Rock and a Salt Pile (Parry Sound in Black and White)