Parking plans

Wausau looks to overhaul parking rules downtown — but whether it costs you more or less depends


One proposed change would make street parking limit times uniformly 90 minutes throughout downtown.

Wausau officials last week unveiled plans that will drastically change parking times and tickets in the downtown — but whether it’s for better or worse will depend on your parking habits. The new system would:

• Target habitual overtime parkers

• Let first offenders—i.e., out-of-town or infrequent visitors—off the hook

• Include a new high-tech system for the city’s ramps and lots

• Start a system of electronic tagging for enforcement officers instead of the chalk markings.

Public parking is no small matter, even in town the size of Wausau. There are approximately 3,500 parking spots in the roughly five block radius of downtown (including ramps), thousands of people who live, work or visit each day, and it’s a system that generates hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue.

Under the new plan, first-time offenders would receive a warning ticket, along with a pamphlet explaining how downtown parking works in Wausau, city finance director Maryanne Groat explained to business owners and reps in a meeting Thursday, June 28.

The fines jump from there: $10 for second and third ticket, $15 for fourth and fifth, and $25 beyond that. The structure is meant to combat “habitual abusers,” Community Development Director Chris Schock says, who treat the $5 ticket as a fee, not a penalty.

The new system also standardizes free parking spots. Currently some areas are 60 minutes, others are two hours. All parking spots under the plan would become 90 minutes — a decrease for many of the two-hour spots but a bonus in some ramps where parkers start paying right away.

The city has heard increasing complaints that parking penalties and confusion are hurting business, primarily on Third Street — spots have varying allotments of parking time with little rhyme or reason. Some business owners routinely pay the parking tickets of customers, to smooth any feathers ruffled over the confusion.

The city paid a consultant $58,585 to study the issue and much of the city’s plan is based on that study, along with tweaks from the input of business owners and others. “We’ve heard from people that said it should be 60 minutes, and those who said it should be two hours or more,” Groat says. “Ninety minutes seemed liked a good compromise.”

The city pulls in about $250,000 in revenue from parking violations, and about $150,000 comes from downtown, Groat says.

Much of that revenue comes from habitual offenders. “One person had 83 tickets in a year,” Groat says. “Wow, that’s a lot.” Third Street had a higher number of first-time offenders.

Implementing the new technology and added signs will cost an estimated $138,000–$163,000, Groat says. The city looked at pay stations for on-street parking but that would have cost between $250,000 and $275,000.

The city will have another public meeting downtown July 9, and is currently surveying downtown businesses to get feedback. The plan would go to the Finance Committee July 10, Capital Improvements and Street Maintenance Committee July 12 and the full city council Aug. 14. Then downtown parking would have an educational grace period until Jan. 1 when the new ticketing system would start.