After months of lively and sometimes heated discussion, Beaufort's City Council could decide as early as next week if it will remove the not-so-popular electronic parking kiosks from Bay Street and revert to coin-operated meters.
After discussing the issue at a workshop Tuesday, Mayor Billy Keyserling said it appears council reached a consensus that the kiosks should be removed from Bay Street and moved to other parking lots that could use extra pay stations.
But council must still decide what will replace the kiosks, which accept cash, coins, and credit and debit cards.
Options discussed include new double-space, coin-only meters that would cost the city about $34,200.
That's the recommendation from Lanier Parking Solutions -- known locally as Park Beaufort -- based on its review and a recent merchant survey conducted by Main Street Beaufort, USA.
Another option is using Beaufort's existing coin-only meters that it removed to make way for the kiosks, which went live in July.
"My concern is that when we bought the kiosks, we told ourselves that our meters had to be replaced anyway, that they were outdated," Keyserling said. "To go back to an old meter that's broken down, I have concern."
The city paid $144,000 for 12 kiosks, six of which were located on Bay Street.
Council is expected to vote on other changes Tuesday that would extend the parking time limit on Bay Street from two to three hours, keeping the hourly rate at $1.
Other streets would fall into a tiered time limit and hourly rate structure that would be cheaper as drivers get farther from Bay Street.
Council approved those changes on first reading last month.
Keyserling offered a box of chocolates as way to keep the conversation civil. He said many throughout the community have lost sight of what the issue really is -- keeping employees from parking on Bay Street and creating turnover so customers who want to shop along the historic corridor can find a spot.
"I think it's really gotten very emotional, which is why I offered the candy," Keyserling said. "I want us to all get back to the bigger question of how do we grow our downtown to make it more vibrant."
A few other last-minute requests were discussed Tuesday.
Council did not support a petition signed by more than 80 downtown business and property owners last month to make downtown parking free for the next six months as a temporary gift to consumers.
Councilman Gary Fordham did suggest bagging the meters for a month while the city determines its next move.
Keyserling asked a committee studying the issue to consider a free parking option, such as a lot or other designated area downtown.
Council directed the committee to meet again and prepare a formal recommendation before Tuesday.
The free parking option idea sat well with Bay Street Outfitters owner Tony Royal, just one of many downtown store owners who attended the workshop and reiterated that they and their customers don't like the kiosks.
Alton Aimar, another business owner, said he "would like council to understand that we really need to do it right this time."