After tonight's City Council meeting, $1-an-hour parking meter rates are likely to be a thing of the past -- at least for a little while.
The City Council is expected to approve Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins' proposal to reduce meter rates to 50 cents an hour at all downtown parking spots, beginning as early as this week. The mayor and several aldermen want the lower rates to stay in effect until the end of February.
Because the lower fees are likely to pass, the city administration is ordering new labels for downtown meters and trying to reprogram toll settings.
The new meter rates are intended to be an interim solution until an advisory panel studies the effects of the previous rate increase on local businesses, Mr. Hopkins said.
"Let's take our time and think about this on both sides for awhile," Mr. Hopkins said. "Meanwhile, while some study is done, the rates will be lower."
The higher rates, which were approved in July but were not enforced until mid-September, prompted an outcry from shopkeepers in downtown Annapolis. Business owners said the new meters would drive away business and lose the city so much money that even a higher meter rate couldn't recoup the losses.
Most City Council members are likely to ask the Downtown Annapolis Parking and Transportation Advisory Committee to study whether higher rates actually hurt businesses and rerouted consumers to nearby malls and shopping strips that have free parking.
Kathleen Sulick, the city's assistant director for budgeting, estimated the higher rates would bring in $183,000 from January to the beginning of March. If the rates were lowered by 50 percent, the city would get $107,700 during the same period, she said. The figure is not evenly halved because the city factored in increased downtown business over that time period.
Aldermen Louise Hammond, Shep Tullier, Wayne Turner and Theresa DeGraff also proposed a bill that would slash rates in half. Mr. Hopkins is planning to replace their measure with his own. But the group of council members has no plans to drop its bill.
Originally, Ms. Hammond was reluctant to roll back parking meter rates and had requested a study before any action on the fees. She changed her mind a few weeks ago, when the city decided to reduce parking meter fees along Maryland Avenue from $1 to 50 cents.
"I thought that doing this for one group and not another was not appropriate," she said. "If we're going to do it we should do it across the board."
The aldermen tried to bring up their bill at the last council &L meeting. The mayor deferred debate by sending the issue to the Finance Committee. The council also is planning to vote tonight on a new lease agreement for the old McNasby's Oyster Co. building. The city-owned seafood processing plant went into debt and closed earlier this year. The Finance Committee approved a bid by Eastport Seafood Corp. last week. The New York-owned company will make its pitch for a one-year, $2,500-a-month lease on the property at the meeting.
Critics in the mayor's administration are wary of Eastport's bid, noting that the company's owner was one of the tenants at McNasby's when the enterprise closed. Eastport's owner, Doug Orr, has disputed that accusation, saying his business was made the scapegoat for McNasby's problems.
The council will meet at 7:30 p.m. today in council chambers.