COVINGTON -- Be sure to keep a check on your watch when you park downtown.
Parking regulations are changing. Vehicles parked on the outside ring and one block off the Square will be limited to two hours. A 12-hour limit will be imposed on the inner ring of the Square to prevent overnight parking. Mayor Kim Carter said overnight parking is a problem particularly during political campaign seasons when vehicles with signs park for days at a time.
In addition, fines for violators are being increased from the current $3 per offense. First-time offenders will receive a warning and a notice explaining the new regulations. The fine for the second and third offenses is $10 and $50 for the fourth offense and each one thereafter. Regulations will not apply to handicap parking spaces. Carter said she expects enforcement to begin within the week.
Fines will be collected by the Covington Police Department and returned to the city's general fund, Carter said.
The new initiative is called Park Smart and fliers explaining the new regulations have been distributed to downtown businesses, where copies are available to the public.
"The goal of the Park Smart initiative, and the new parking ordinance, is to promote the health and economic vitality of the downtown district by managing the parking resources in the district," Carter said in an email response to questions. "Parking Smart is a matter of turnover and on-street spaces for customers and visitors seeking downtown goods and services. Adequate parking turnover for customers, clients and visitors is ensured by downtown workers using long-term parking zones, public parking lots and off street lots."
Lee Mayfield, owner of Mayfield Hardware on the Square and member of the Parking Authority, said changes to the parking ordinance have been a constant conversation for years.
"It really boils down to you're never going to make everybody happy. ... We certainly don't want to drive people from downtown. But the flip side of that is people can't get to the businesses, and that's driving people from downtown," Mayfield said.
The council approved the changes in 2009, but implementation was delayed.
"There is a very diverse set of parking needs in the downtown area and we always strive to be sensitive to the needs of the merchants and service businesses," Carter said. "While the economy is still recovering from the recession, it is much improved from the levels we were facing in 2009 when the revised ordinance was adopted. The city chose a somewhat slow implementation based on advice from the Parking Authority and Main Street Covington to ensure a minimal impact on the businesses."
Carter said there has been an ongoing problem with merchants and employees parking in front of other businesses and not observing time limits currently in place. The new policy is meant to cut down on chronic abusers, she told the City Council at its May 2 meeting.
But some council members expressed concern on the impact to residents who stay on the Square for several hours.
Carter reminded the council that the ordinance changes were passed in 2009 and that residents needing more than two hours may park on the inner ring of the Square and off-street public lots.