Officials look into system overhaul as councilors vote on changes

  • By Dustin Luca Staff Writer
  • May 25, 2021

SALEM — Changes to the city’s residential sticker parking rules won’t be as extreme as previously discussed, but they precede a potential program overhaul.

The City Council on Thursday is expected to vote on changes to Salem’s residential sticker parking program. The council’s ordinance committee reviewed the changes last week and unanimously voted in support of the proposal. 

Among the most significant changes, stickers will be issued annually instead of for two years to more quickly remove stickers from the system that are no longer needed. This means stickers will cost $5 for a year under the new plan instead of $10 for two years as set today. The price of guest passes, two allowed per household, will increase from $1 per year to $10 for a single pass and $20 for the second.

Some have pushed for the city to cap the number of passes per household, but the latest version of the proposal doesn’t set a limit. Instead, the biggest changes focus on guest passes.

The guest pass issue has come up amid allegations from residents in sticker parking neighborhoods that some households buy passes and inappropriately use them to park cars throughout the year.

During the ordinance committee meeting, City Councilor-at-large Arthur Sargent said the situation punishes residents who use visitor passes honestly.

“If people are using their guest passes wrong, it’s up to us to try to find them, enforce it, do what we have to do to make it right,” Sargent said, “not punish the 90-something percent of people who are doing it right and maybe every so often might have two guests over, but now they can’t. I just don’t like putting the presumption of guilt on such a percentage of our people with guest passes.”

Later on, Councilor-at-large Ty Hapworth said the body “shouldn’t assume that people are doing the wrong thing, but right now, this is something that’s pointed to by multiple residents as an issue.”

But whether the city restricts guest passes, increases their use, makes them cheaper or dials up the price, “there isn’t an easy solution here,” Hapworth said. 

Lower-impact changes, Hapworth said, can “hopefully make a positive impact this time around, and then we can look at other options in the future. No matter what we choose, it’s going to be a negative impact, because parking is tough.”

Among other changes coming to the system, college students and active-duty military who live in Salem but have vehicles registered elsewhere will become eligible for residential stickers. The fee for college students is being set to $10 per year, while it will be waived for military.

City Councilor-at-large Conrad Prosniewski said making stickers free for active-duty military seemed like a no-brainer. 

“We all owe a debt of gratitude to those that are serving and protecting us, and this is just another way of showing our gratitude,” he said. “It may be small, but it’s well deserved.”

As for future changes, Ward 1 City Councilor Bob McCarthy pointed to Beverly, where a traffic enforcement vehicle scans license plates downtown to make sure folks have paid for parking. That city recently moved to a 100% kiosk-based parking system. 

“They have these license plate readers that go down the street, and they’re tied into the system,” McCarthy said. “I’m sure we can tie it into our residential system.”

Dave Kucharsky, Salem’s traffic and parking director, said city officials have already started looking into that kind of a system. 

“We’ve begun reaching out to vendors to look at this,” Kucharsky said, adding that new technology could impact the price of passes again later on. “I’m hoping to come back to you all in the near future, having those discussions on how to implement (a new system).”

Salem police Lt. David Tucker, the traffic unit commander, said the “ultimate solution” to Salem’s parking issues “is an all-new system.”

“Everyone seems to be in agreement on that, but until that day, this is a step toward that,” Tucker said of the new sticker parking plan. “This is kind of a Band-Aid, but we can’t move to that new system yet.”

To respond to this story or suggest another, contact Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.