Photo: Bells & Whistles’ Meghan Aufiero at the community parking lot behind Belmont Center, Tuesday, Feb. 3.
There was a surprise waiting for Meghan Aufiero as she arrived for work at Bells & Whistles, the home furnishings, gifts and accessories store on Leonard Street on a frigid Tuesday morning, Feb. 3.
As she was putting dollar bills into the parking machine, she discovered the daily rate to park in the Belmont Center commuter lot would cost her an extra $2 a day to $5.
“This is a bummer,” the Winchester resident said when she discovered the 75 percent increase in the price of parking in Belmont’s commercial hub.
Aufiero is just one of dozens of employees of small businesses and franchises feeling the impact of the near doubling of the daily parking charge, approved late last year by the Belmont Board of Selectmen at the recommendation of a citizens/town group that spent more than a year determining the parking operation was not paying its way.
The new parking scheme, which went into effect Sunday, Feb. 1, includes the new fee structure and an attempt to monetize the vast number of commuters who have parked on Belmont streets for nothing, or close to it, for decades.
In addition to the hourly and daily fees jumps, the town has created 10 new weekday parking spots along Royal Road adjacent to the MBTA’s commuter rail station at Belmont Center and spaces in the Belmont Center commuter parking lot reserved for commuter pass holders. Those monthly passes are going for $90 a pop, an increase of $30.
The jump in fees, delayed a month at the request of local businesses, has been as welcome as the two snow storms that have hampered businesses in the town’s main commercial area.
“I can’t, and won’t, tell you how angry I am about this,” said a Leonard Street business proprietor.
Owners say the result of the new commuter parking plan is their staffs are left holding the bag, which needs to be filled with quarters to feed the parking machine.
For Belmont Toys owner Deran Muckjian, the increase will be an additional burden on his employees.
“The are now being asked to pay $1,200 or more this year just to come to work,” he said.
For Shelley MacDonald, who travels from Clarendon Road to Belmont Center, the additional cost of parking is making it harder for her to justify coming to work at the town’s only toy store.
“These little businesses don’t make enough to offset the new price for their employees. How can they retain good workers?” MacDonald asked.
Muckjian is not just upset by the added costs to his employees, but whether the increases are justified. Muckjian said his parking costs in towns where he has other stores are considerably less; in Lexington, he pays $250 a year each for two employee passes while Winchester does not charge a nickel for employee parking permits.
“What are the costs to park here? Keep the blacktop repaired? Making sure the parking machine is working?” Muckjian said.
At the very least, said Muckjian, a discount should be provided to the employees with the subsequent decrease in revenue be made up by increasing the fees on commuters.
A monthly pass at the nearby Alewife Station in Cambridge is $7 a day while the parking lot at the Fitchburg/Acton commuter line stop at the Brandeis stop in Waltham is $4 daily.
So far, there has been little communications between owners and the town on resolving the matter.
Champions Sports Goods owner Gerry Dickhaut said he has yet to receive a reply to a Belmont Center Business Association letter on business owners’ concerns. The single-page note, dated Dec. 8, suggests cutting the increase in the daily rate in half, up a $1 to $4 a day, retain the $60 a month pass for employees while jacking up the cost to commuters to $15 a day, which would still be half the cost of parking in downtown Boston.
But the town official who presented the case for the fee hike at a pair of public meetings last month said the increases in daily and monthly rates are past due.
Belmont Town Treasurer Floyd Carman, said rates have been kept steady since January 2009 while the demand for parking spots is outstripping supply.
“Belmont parking is at a premium. We are not like other towns that either has the space for big lots or a lot of industry that can subsidize parking,” said Carman. “Belmont does not have that luxury; We have a limited number of parking spaces. That’s the facts.”
He said the town’s parking advisory group, made up of residents and town officials, made an extensive analysis of the parking rates in many communities, not just neighboring municipalities. The new price structure “is a function of what it takes to run the program and what’s fair.”
Carman said the need for the town to employ three parking enforcement personnel and keeping all the equipment running requires the town to raise about $35,000 a year on fees to make the program pay for itself.
“Believe me, the town is not getting rich on this increase,” said Carman.
As for alternatives and price breaks for employees, Carman said he has not seen any proposals “come across my desk.”
“If the business association comes to me with a proposal, I am ready to talk to them and then presented to the Board of Selectmen,” said Carman.