Athens is a small town. Not much to do in the evening.
So Chuck Horton is about to re-enact the famous scene from Cool Hand Luke where Paul Newman uses a bolt cutter to snap off all those parking meters (except he won’t be drunk, probably). The Athens Downtown Development Authority parking director is fed up with all of the broken meters downtown, and he wants them replaced.
“It looks bad for the city,” Horton told the ADDA board last week. “We’ve got folks coming in, the Methodists coming in, and we’ve got busted meters all over the place.
“I think something needs to be done, because you’re losing money.”
Sixty of the old coins-only meters are broken, Horton said, and the rest will be soon.
“They’re just dinosaurs,” ADDA Executive Director Kathryn Lookofsky said. “We’re not going to be able to keep them running.”
Horton urged the ADDA to replace 400 of the 517 old meters with new ones that also accept credit cards (similar to those already installed on Lumpkin Street and a few other locations downtown). Those 400 will be cannibalized for parts and used to keep the other 117 running.
The ADDA board forwarded the request to the Athens-Clarke County Commission, which holds the purse strings. $256,000 in SPLOST funds is already set aside, so funding shouldn’t be a problem, according to Commissioner Mike Hamby, an ADDA board member.
The new meters won’t take long to pay for themselves. Horton estimated that broken meters are costing the city $9,000 a month in lost revenue.
While the coins-only meters will be gone soon, the much-loathed pay-and-display meters are staying. I’m not sure why they’re so hard to figure out, but every time I walk downtown, I see someone staring at a pay-and-display meter as if it were written in hieroglyphics. You put money or a credit card in, punch in how much time you want to buy, get a receipt and put it on your windshield. It’s not rocket science, people. (Unless the meter is broken, that is. Which seems likely.)
Of course, some people have difficulty operating any type of parking meter. I was walking past the Georgia Theatre recently and saw two guys in suits (at 6 p.m. on a Saturday, no less) trying to stuff a dollar bill into a meter’s credit card slot.
Horton also wants to buy 189 sensors that will be buried in the pavement, detect when a car leaves a space and reset the meter to zero. When drivers take advantage of leftover time, it costs Athens-Clarke County money.
“Pennies add up to a good bit of money,” he said.
It would only be fair if the sensors also refunded your money for time left on the meter, but of course that’s not happening.
What Redistricting Hath Wrought: Remember that time that party-switching Republican legislator guy decided to mess with our commission districts? And you weren’t sure which district you were in anymore or who represented you? Well, we’re still dealing with the fallout.
Next July, many Athens voters will very likely have to go to new polling places to vote. Precincts used to be neatly divided along commission district lines. But now, with the new districts, they don’t make any sense. Harry Sims’ District 2, for example, used to have two precincts, J.J. Harris and Stroud elementary schools. Now, after redistricting, District 2 includes parts of seven precincts, and those precincts are split among multiple commission districts. It’s all very confusing.
ACC Election Supervisor Gail Schrader wants to change that. She has proposed reducing the number of precincts (now 24) and reconfiguring them to once again match commission district lines.
“I think this would make it a lot easier for everybody to understand their precincts,” Schrader said.
The popularity of early voting means that polling places are not as busy as they once were. Almost half of voters cast ballots before Election Day last year, Schrader said. So other local governments, including Chatham, Muscogee, Paulding and Lowndes counties, are cutting back on precincts.
Schrader said she didn’t know yet how many precincts Athens should have or where polling places would be. But each of the 10 commission districts will have at least one polling place, two if the district has more than 4,000 active registered voters.
Commissioners Mike Hamby and Jerry NeSmith raised concerns about the proposal. They wondered whether reducing the number of polling places would make voting more inconvenient and questioned whether people in their diverse districts would leave their neighborhoods to cast their ballots.
“We don’t want to make it not so appealing for people to vote,” NeSmith said.
Schrader wants to expand early voting, adding a second Saturday as well as two new locations in addition to the downtown Board of Elections office. One would be on the westside, probably at Georgia Square Mall, and the other on the eastside, possibly at the police station on Lexington Road. Those locations will be near public transit, and she also noted that both political parties offer free rides to the polls.
Coming Up: New precincts are on the commission’s agenda for discussion Thursday, June 20, and a vote Tuesday, July 2. So is the Selig development downtown.
Commissioners won’t take public input Thursday (it isn’t allowed on any zoning items at agenda-setting meetings) but their questions and comments may indicate how they’re leaning. Given the narrow issue of ground-floor residential units that’s on the table and the concessions Selig has already made, they’ll have no reason not to approve the special use request in spite of the project’s shortcomings.
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