Council shifts parking enforcement

The city administration ran into a buzzsaw regarding parking enforcement Thursday night.

It proposed a change in a city ordinance that enables the Williamsport Parking Authority to issue permits instead of city police.

That wasn’t the problem, as council voted 6-0 to pass the ordinance on first reading with Councilman Jonathan Williamson absent.

What became the sticking point was a map expanding the authority’s coverage area for permits and parking enforcement.

The map shows expanded enforcement zones east and west of the central business district, and it brought up the most questions and concerns.

“The authority already has the legal authority to issue citations in the rest of the city,” Council President Bill Hall said. “The map is separate from the proposed ordinance. It is the administration that is changing policy in terms of enforcing parking.”

Mayor Gabriel J. Campana, speaking with the Sun-Gazette as Council continued its meeting, said the reason he wants to see the authority patrol a wider area outside the downtown is to tackle the growing rate of crime on neighborhood streets.

“This will give my police officers more time to concentrate on illegal activities, serious drug crimes,” Campana said.

City police said crimes of opportunity, such as larcenies, including thefts from motor vehicles and burglaries, are on the rise due to narcotics, particularly cheap heroin.

The proposed parking enforcement zones run eastward from Market Street to Penn Street and north to parts of Germania Street. The areas in the west are from parts of Locust Street to Rose Street.

“We don’t want to have a situation where (authority staff) become overzealous and create havoc for residents,” Councilman N. Clifford “Skip” Smith said. He cited an example of homeowners who take vacation, use another vehicle or taxi to go to the airport, and leave their car parked outside their house on the street. He was concerned they would return to find their vehicle impounded.

Councilwoman Bonnie Katz said those who spoke to her when the story hit the Sun-Gazette Thursday want to see the whole city canvassed, not selective neighborhoods.

As a matter of equity, Councilman Randall J. Allison expressed his concerns. “Some people will be under more intense scrutiny and others won’t,” he said.

“There’s a lot of residential areas included here,” Allison said. “I think that is going to be a problem.”

City Police Chief Gregory A. Foresman said the map was developed to show council the type of enforcement needed. It shows a legend describing the type of enforcement such as – no parking, two-hour parking, bus stop, tow-away and handicapped parking zones.

The administration reviewed the number of calls, many non-emergency types, to the Lycoming County 911 Center, regarding parking violations, Foresman said.

“We’re trying to prevent abuse by college students on streets where homeowners live,” Foresman said. “Police will continue to issue parking tickets but it will relieve them of these duties and provide a more consistent enforcement by the authority staff,” he said.

Foresman said he is particularly concerned with Washington Boulevard and Franklin Street, “which are taken up by and sometimes abused by Lycoming College students,” he told the Sun-Gazette.

Councilwoman Liz Miele agreed that while no issues seem to be with amending the ordinance, there is a need for the administration to develop a plan. The plan should involve the authority and police and focus on parking enforcement and how it can be uniform throughout the city, she added.

William E. Nichols Jr., city finance director, said he was not certain whether the expansion of patrol would require more authority staff. At this time, there is an adequate complement to begin the experiment, he said.

“If the council does not want us to enforce the parking law, we won’t,” Nichols said.

The second vote is expected in two weeks.