The chairman of Beaufort's parking task force believes the city's age-old downtown parking problem can be solved.
What that solution be, however, is yet to be determined -- but it has to happen because it is crucial to Beaufort's economic vitality, David Cargile told task force members last week.
"Parking is a symptom," he said. "Keep that in mind. And the disease we want to avoid is Beaufort becoming another one of those charming little ghost towns."
A number of changes are underway as the city transitions to a new parking-management company, and city staff, officials and volunteers work to create a report by June 30 about parking.
Here's what to know in the meantime:
You can still park two hours for free, but pay if you stay longer
At the end of December, Beaufort City Council voted to extend the free two-hour parking program until June.
SP+ Municipal Services started work Feb. 1 as the city's parking manager.
The company has configured the parking lot kiosks, which are at the Beaufort Downtown Marina, by the playground and at the Beaufort library, so customers can punch in how long they're staying and pay for any time over two hours, SP+ regional director Bob Kamper said.
Customers will get a receipt, regardless of whether they need to pay. The receipt must be placed on the windshield of their vehicle. The receipt prevents them from having to return after two hours to feed the meter, if they paid for more time.
However, the street meters cannot be configured like the kiosks, Kamper said, so customers who want to stay more than two hours must come back and feed the meters for additional time.
"While they are smart meters, they aren't smart enough," Kamper said.
SP+ will know where your vehicle is -- and how often you move it
Around the middle of March, SP+ will bring in a license plate recognition system that will read plates and track where vehicles are parked and for how long, Kamper said.
The system will be mobile so SP+ employees scan vehicles about every 30 minutes. It will be used for a 60-day trial period.
However, SP+ is already keeping an eye out for vehicles that move from one space to another to "abuse" the free two-hour program, and Kamper said employees are issuing tickets to repeat violators.
"We do have an issue with folks liking the two hours free, who maybe work downtown and are moving their cars every two hours, and who are challenging that they aren't allowed to do that," he said.
Parking committees want your involvement
The city's approximately 20-member parking task force is split into four subcommittees.
Full committee meetings are tentatively planned March 30, May 18 and June 15, and the final report is due by June 30. Those meetings will require advance public notice. However, Cargile said he also intends to publicize, through the city's website or social media, subcommittee meetings to attract public involvement.
The committee met as a whole Feb. 16, and a makeup meeting is planned for 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall for members of the committee and the public who were unable to attend.
Key people and contacts
SP+ offices are in the same location former parking management firm Lanier Parking Solutions operated from, 210 Scott St., and can be reached at 843-379-9330.
Alice Wallace, who worked for Lanier Parking several years ago, is the local office manager for SP+.
City courts administrator Linda Roper is the official city liaison for parking and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Task force members in addition to Cargile are: Nan Sutton, Ginger Aimar, Matt McAlhaney, Gene Rugala, Donna Lang, Pat Harvey-Palmer, Pete Palmer, Lloyd Sidwell, Martha Moriarty, Tony Royal, Edward Dukes, Courtney Worrell, Turner Wortham, Lantz Price, Kevin Cuppia, John Marshall, Bill Chambers and Jan O'Rourke. City Councilman George O'Kelley Jr. is the council representative on the task force.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.