BLOOMINGTON — Assistant City Manager Steve Rasmussen estimates it would cost Bloomington $1 million to install parking meters downtown.
"We have considered smart (technology) meters, but it's very expensive to put in," said Rasmussen. "Unfortunately, we don't have that money budgeted yet. It's too expensive for us to do it right now."
Determining the number of meters needed for all of downtown and the amount of revenue they would generate would require a detailed study at an estimated cost of $160,000. The city might seek funding for the parking study in next year's budget, said Rasmussen.
At a Downtown Task Force Committee meeting last week, panel member and Ward 1 Alderman Jamie Mathy said he favors allowing people to park free in the municipal garages, and converting free on-street parking to meters.
"If the Downtown Task Force determines that is one of the most important things we do, then we would not do some other things to make (the meters) possible," said Rasmussen.
Former Mayor Jesse Smart doesn't "think it would be good idea to bring them back." Smart succeeded Rich Buchanan as mayor in 1985.
In 1982, under Buchanan's mayoral tenure, the city started removing 200 parking meters that had been in downtown Bloomington for 42 years.
Twelve months later, Bloomington sold the used meters to raise $16,195, but that was a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of money lost by removing the devices, according to Pantagraph coverage at the time.
Then-Bloomington Finance Director Allan Horsman said the 1982-83 budget was prepared with a projected loss of $75,000 because of the meters' removal.
"The downtown merchants did not like (the meters)," said Smart.
When Eastland Mall was built in the mid-1960s "it was a big deal that everybody was going to the mall because of the parking meters downtown," he added.
Buchanan could not be reached for comment last week.
"We don't lack parking spaces, but the problem is the majority of the spaces we have are in the parking decks and they're up two or three floors and people don't want to walk to them," said Rasmussen.
The city operates three municipal parking garages downtown: the Market Street garage at West Market and Monroe streets, the Abraham Lincoln parking deck at East and Front streets and a third deck at the Pepsi Ice Center, 201 S. Roosevelt Ave.
The three garages provide about 2,000 parking spaces. Parking is free after 6 p.m. on evenings and weekends. There is also free four-hour parking in the Market Street and Pepsi Ice Center garages.
The city's comprehensive plan, adopted by the council in 2015, calls for making the parking decks free or at a reduced fee, and the return of meters to downtown streets, Rasmussen noted.
"The idea is to leave those metered spaces for customers and drive the long-term parkers, like those who live downtown, into the parking decks and let them park there for free," said Rasmussen.
The city also does not have money to hire more parking attendants to enforce parking rules downtown. Currently, the city employs three parking attendants who also monitor the parking decks.
"We could move their hours around a little bit to become a little more effective, but we can't get more hours under the current funding " said Rasmussen.