By Tim Cox
Parking will remain limited to two hours in Celina's downtown business district during daytime business hours, but city officials admit there are people who would like to see the rules more strictly enforced and others who would like to see them dropped altogether.
Members of Celina City Council's streets and alleys committee discussed the issue for nearly an hour Thursday with police Chief Dave Slusser. City administration officials asked council members to look at the parking issue following a rash of recent complaints.
Complaints stream in any time the police department steps up enforcement of parking regulations, Slusser said. Furthermore, some downtown business owners complain when there is little enforcement and parking spaces in front of their stores are tied up for hours at a time.
But city officials said they believe downtown business owners can do more than the city to free up parking for customers in front of their businesses. All they have to do is force their employees to park off the street in any of a number of downtown municipal parking lots, they said.
The city maintains 146 off-street parking spaces in the heart of downtown, Mayor Sharon LaRue said. Many of them can be found vacant on a daily basis. Parking along the street in the downtown business district is restricted to two hours from 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. on weekdays.
A poll of downtown business owners done by Councilman Ed Jeffries showed an overwhelming majority of owners want the parking regulations left in place, although a few said the rules should only be kept if they are actively enforced. Only four of 36 business owners said they want the restrictions eliminated; three others offered no opinion.
But some city officials said the poll results are opposite of what they see happen on a daily basis.
"I see a lot of abuse by the people on this list, and their employees, who said they want to keep," the regulations, public works Superintendent Joe Wolfe said.
"We get mixed signals on what people want," Safety-Service Director Jeff Hazel said.
Some businesses find the two-hour limit a hindrance, Slusser said, because their clients spend more than two hours on site. Others, mostly retailers, still rely on a steady stream of customers coming and going to stay in business.
At risk of causing even more parking-related complaints, council members decided to take a hands-off approach.
Slusser, meanwhile, said his officers will continue enforcing the two-hour parking restrictions, but only in a "haphazard" manner. Slusser said most of the department's traffic enforcement is done this way, which means officers react to things they find while patrolling the city. Officers still will enforce parking when they have time or when there are complaints, he said.
The recent round of complaints was sparked by increased parking enforcement that routinely occurs during the summer months, Slusser said. Officers often are too busy patrolling school zones during the school year to enforce downtown parking regulations on a routine basis, he said.
The department has in the past employed a parking officer, but the more tickets written, the more complaints that stream in, he said. Plus, even a full-time parking officer would be hard-pressed to write enough tickets to justify the cost of the position, he said.
City police have written only 175 parking tickets in the past four years, LaRue said. The citations carry a $10 fine with no court appearance necessary.