Jeannette mayor considers end to free parking in lot

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Jeannette Mayor Richard Jacobelli wants to end free parking in Jeannette's main city lot.

Mr. Jacobelli is asking council to approve hiring part-time workers to man the Magee Avenue parking lot, at least from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Under his plan, motorists would have to pay either $2 or $3 to park there during those hours. The lot would remain open to the public at no cost Mondays through Wednesdays.

In addition, vehicles parked in the lot when paid hours begin would be ticketed and instructed to pay the gatekeeper upon leaving the lot.

"It’s about creating jobs," said Mr. Jacobelli at a council meeting last month. "I want the lot to be at least self-sustaining." At the February meeting, Mr. Jacobelli said the move was to generate revenue for the city.

Last month, the city placed a sign on the lot’s gatehouse announcing that it would be closed indefinitely March 3. The sign, however, was taken down a few days before the closing date after two businesses that rely on the lot for customer parking opposed the move.

Mr. Jacobelli said the city decided to close the lot out of safety concerns after two women claimed to have fallen in it during icy and snowy conditions.

Rick Pitzer, co-owner of Pitzer’s Restaurant, and officials from the American Legion Post 344, met with the mayor after they were asked to pay $250 each per month to lease the lot. In addition, the businesses were asked to be responsible for the lot’s maintenance. Adjacent businesses that use it were not asked to participate in the lease agreement.

"We rely on the lot,"  said Mr. Pitzer, whose business is located at South Fifth Street and Magee Avenue, across the street from the lot, which has space for some 150 vehicles.

Both Mr. Pitzer and legion officials said their businesses would suffer from the lack of parking. They agreed, however, that they had no objection to the city charging for parking there.

The city charged for parking until a few years ago, when council decided it was too costly to pay four part-time employees to collect the fees.

In the meantime, parking on downtown streets will remain free for now.

According to Mr. Jacobelli, the city will consider hiring a meter reader and again charging on the streets. The city eliminated the meter reader position several years ago.

The mayor said the move is being looked at after complaints that it was unfair to charge for parking in the city lot but not for parking on the streets.

Mr. Jacobelli had suggested removing and selling the parking meters. He estimated the city could sell them for $150 each or $250 for two.

"Then how can you justify having people park on Clay Avenue all day without paying?" asked Councilman Mark Levander. "It’s not fair if you have a pay parking lot."

Mr. Levander argued that downtown business employees would park along the streets rather than in the lot, leaving customers to pay for parking or decide not to do business in the city.

The mayor suggested angling parking spaces on the  main street, alternating on each block to provide customer parking; there would be a designated parking site at the lower end of the avenues for business employees, he said.

In other business, council is considering eliminating the city clerk’s position and replacing it with a city manager/administrator.

Mike Foreman, a specialist with the Department of Community and Economic Development, who has been advising the city on measures to elude financially distressed status, said he is willing to help council to hire a professional manager.

The new position would require a college degree in a specific area such as public administration, municipal finance or urban planning.

City clerk Mike Minyon Jr. is now paid $54,700 plus benefits annually.

Mr. Foreman said his department could help the city advertise the job, prepare interview questions for candidates, help council evaluate applicants and show council how to check a candidate's references.

"I will work with council from A to Z through the process,"  Mr. Foreman said.

Linda Metz, freelance writer:

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