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Businesses near Clayton Street may be affected by the renovations going on to install a stormwater system. (Photo/Shubham Kadam)

Arianna Mantas, a senior at the University of Georgia, waits tables at a restaurant in downtown Athens. When she works, she chooses to park at a metered spot and run the risk of getting fined instead of walking from a parking garage.

Since parking fines increased early last year, her parking ticket tab has become harder to pay.

“We don't always have a minute to either go back and pay the meter, or even get to it because they patrol it every hour,” Mantas said. “So what happens is a lot of service industry people can't even keep up with the tickets they get.”

The Athens-Clarke Commission proposed an increase in parking fines, which became effective July 1, 2018. Now, around six months later, the local community seems to be noticing the effects of the increase. The change may be intended to let business grow, but it presents a challenge for locals.

The parking meter allows prepaying for up to two hours and after 6 p.m. an additional amount of time can be added. If the parking meter expires, because of the increase, the fine will be $20 instead of $10. Parking beyond a meter’s typical two-hour time limit will result in a fine for $25 instead of $15.

According to the Fiscal Year 2019 Annual Operating & Capital Budget, the projected revenue for fines is $950,000. $375,000 of that amount is due to the $10 increase, according to the budget.

Reason for the raise

The Athens Downtown Development Authority, as part of their annual contract, collect both the parking fees and the fines which are then deposited into the General Fund.

“Strong parking business helps the businesses downtown,” Commissioner Mike Hamby said. “It helps businesses generate customers… [and] regulate the turnover.”

Concerns about turnover lie with how residents and students may consider parking all day on the streetside versus parking in a lot or deck.

“If the fine structure is too low, people will just accept that as a reasonable parking space,” said David Lynn, director of planning and outreach for the ADDA. “[They think,] ‘If I get a $10 fee, that’s as cheap as parking somewhere else.’”

The previous parking fines were also outdated as they had not been raised in about 10 years, according to Hamby.

“The fine structure has to keep up with people’s preferences and, in this case, the commission...felt that the fees were getting out of date in terms of making sure...people who need to park downtown for a long time were not parking on the street instead of the deck,” Lynn said.

"We don't always have a minute to either go back and pay the meter, or even get to it because they patrol it every hour... a lot of service industry people can't even keep up with the tickets they get."

— Arianna Mantas, UGA student and waitress

 Both Lynn and Hamby suggest that those staying longer than two hours should park in a deck, as they are cheaper than receiving a fine.

Wanda White, Athens resident, said that a parking fine of $20 was “pretty steep”, but she thinks she understands why the local government increased the fine.

“I think a lot of the parking might not be customers or patrons of the businesses, I suspect that… some people may presume students park down here...and are not patronizing,” said White. “I know I have friends who own businesses and I know they want to have parking spaces available for their customers.”

Employees working downtown are typically advised to either park in decks or on the street, potentially resulting in fines for expired meters.

Mantas believes it has gotten worse with high fines while still running the risk of getting a boot adding more to the cost.

“You're here to supposedly make money, and you lose more than half of what you make [if]...you chose to park close and come here,” Mantas said.

Mantas said she has been in contact with downtown parking services questioning why there weren’t discounts for those who worked downtown. She was encouraged to park in a parking deck.

“They're not really willing to help people, and they're very stringent about when you get the money back to them. So like, most people who work here have been severely f***** over,” said Mantas.

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