Getting Local: Newburyport Slights Non-resident Employees With Paid Parking Plan

For months the city of Newburyport, MA has been debating a paid parking plan for the downtown area, that is now one city council session vote away from being implemented. I’ve watched the news stories in the local paper for sometime as others from the area have, but the recent vote on the issue caused me a great deal of concern.

I am a former resident of Newburyport. My father owned a business in Newburyport for over 3 decades, I owned a business in Newburyport in the 80’s. About 20 months ago I moved back to the Newburyport area after living in Los Angeles for 19 years.

I now work in a small retail store in downtown Newburyport and it’s been a pleasure to see how Newburyport has grown over the years, in most ways for the better. The tourism is phenomenal for the city, especially the downtown businesses. Even in this tough downturn, no jobs economy, I am happy to see that so many small businesses in Newburyport are flourishing. In part thanks to the dedicated employees that work at these businesses. Because the truth is, while small businesses are the backbone of the American economy, the workers are the backbone of small businesses.

So, in a small city like Newburyport, that has so many small businesses, the economy is dependent on those businesses and their employees. Which leads me to wonder, what exactly is the mayor of Newburyport and it’s city council thinking in trying to implement a paid parking plan that would charge non-resident employees of downtown Newburyport 20 times more than it would charge residents for a yearly parking pass?

[Mayor] Holaday made some important concessions to the plan last night in order to ensure its passage, the biggest of which was reducing the cost of parking stickers to $5 for Newburyport residents and free for Newburyport seniors. Previously, the cost was $50 for residents and $25 for seniors…

Employees of downtown businesses and shops will still be offered the opportunity to purchase a $100 parking permit that will enable them to park all day in 130 spaces allotted to them in the waterfront lots owned by the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority.

The majority of businesses in downtown Newburyport are either retail or restaurant and the majority of the employees work for minimum or slightly more and many only work part-time. The day after the article appeared in Newburyport Daily News there was the obligatory follow-up article that stated “Reaction muted to paid-parking plan.”

An apt description for a plan that hardly any non-resident employees of downtown businesses were aware was on the heels of passing. Why? Because, apparently no one from the city or the Chamber of Commerce has thought to survey downtown businesses to see how many businesses have non-resident employees and ask if there were concerns among the employees about the proposed fee. And, apparently when one City Councilor at least attempted to reduce the fee proposed to charge non-resident employees, not one Newburyport City Councilor thought to support that.

I have talked to employees and owners of at least a dozen downtown business in the past 3 days and the reaction I have had from both business owners and employees, when I tell them of the disparity between the resident fee and the non-resident employee fee, has been shock, surprise and dismay. Most I talked to were complete unaware of the situation. As non-residents of the city they simply were not paying attention to the small town politics. And why should they. The local politicians aren’t interested in them.

Well, they should be. Because with out these loyal employees, downtown Newburyport, with all its charm and small town feel would not be what it is today. Businesses would not be thriving. Local shoppers and tourists would not want to come back and visit Newburyport’s shops and restaurants.

Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday and members of City Council should take a little time before their final vote on the parking plan scheduled for February 7 and visit their downtown merchants to ask non-resident employees how they feel about being changed 20 times more than residents for a yearly parking pass. Most, I guarantee will respond that they are not happy and feel it is unfair.

It is unfair. It’s inequitable and it’s certainly not at all jobs friendly in this downturn economy. The reduction to $50 that Councilor Ari Herzog told me he put before the City Council but was not supported, is also inequitable.

The city of Newburyport will show themselves to be a city unfriendly to workers if they pass this parking pass as stands with a $100 yearly fee for all non-resident downtown employees. That fee, again, I stress is 20 times more than residents would be required to pay yearly for a parking pass.

UnfairInequitableNot at all jobs friendly.

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