Parking ticket fines could more than double under a proposal coming before Portsmouth city councilors Monday night.

Tickets for an expired parking meter in Portsmouth currently cost $15. The proposed change now under consideration would raise the fee to $35 for each offense.

Councilor Peter Whelan, who chairs the city’s Parking and Traffic Safety Committee, said downtown parking utilization is approaching 100 percent. The proposed fee change is intended to promote turnover among limited on-street parking close to shops and restaurants.

Further, he said, many motorists are willing to pay parking tickets because after four hours the ticket actually costs less than feeding the meter.

“We are writing a lot of tickets for vehicles that are overstaying because it is cheaper for them to do that,” Whelan said. “Part of this is, how do we incentivize those people to move to the Foundry Street Garage at a cheaper rate?”

If the measure passes, Whelen expects the city will be writing fewer tickets, not more.

The problem with parking in Portsmouth

Parking is an ongoing challenge in Portsmouth, which has added hundreds of new residential units and hotel rooms to its compact downtown. The 22,000-person city also brims with tourists and visitors during the warm-weather months, further restricting available parking.

COVID-19 has compounded the parking challenges by removing parking spaces to make room for outdoor seating at restaurants.

The 600-space Foundry Place Garage, located west of downtown on Foundry Place, was built in part to help with parking challenges downtown that have spilled into West End neighborhoods. Parking in the garage costs $1 an hour, compared to $2 an hour at the Hanover Street garage.

Portsmouth’s on street parking rates are among the highest in the region. Much of the downtown falls within Zone A, where rates are $2 an hour for the first three hours, and $5 an hour after that. Zone B, which covers parking on the edges of downtown, costs $1.50 an hour for the first three hours, and $3 an hour beyond after three hours.

Not everyone is happy about the proposed fine structure

The plan to raise parking violation fines has met opposition from people who work downtown. Portsmouth currently offers parking at the Foundry Place Garage for downtown workers at a substantial discount.

Mayor Rick Becksted is among those who oppose raising the parking violation to $35.

He would prefer the city wait until after the critical summer tourism season to implement the changes. He also supports raising the fee in increments rather than in one fell swoop.

“We are a tourist town, we cater to visitors and we rely on them,” Becksted said Friday. “But the complaints I get about parking are not from tourists … but from residents.”

“I don’t think this is the time for this,” Becksted added. “We have better things we need to be doing.”

What's next?

The city’s Parking and Traffic Safety Committee has supported the proposed fine increase, and a majority of councilors have supported the measure during earlier procedural votes. Monday’s 7 p.m. council meeting marks the third and likely final reading for the proposal.

Councilors could offer amendments and other changes during the meeting. If passed, the fee increase will take effect soon afterward.

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