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by Paul Leakan
(June 4)Patty A. Tharp heard a deep grumble Wednesday afternoon.
It may have been lunchtime, but it wasn't her stomach. It was the familiar cry of the Hewes Avenue parking garage elevator.
"It's a death trap," said Tharp, "and the stairway's murder. When you're walking down the stairway you get wet."
The garage's elevator, with its dank green carpet and graffiti strewn doors, has earned a bad reputation throughout the years. Some people even say they're scared to ride it alone.
Clarksburg City Council's agreement Monday to a proposal that would hike monthly parking rates by $5, and on-street and off-street meter rates to 50 cents per hour, is raising eyebrows.
Tharp, an investment representative at Huntington Banks, owns a $30 a month parking space at the garage. But she isn't too upset about the proposed increase. She just wants a safe place to park.
"Hey, if they fix the garage, then fine," Tharp said. "I'd pay $10 more if they fixed the place."
Tharp, feeling unsafe at the 482-space garage, is not alone.
"I won't ride the elevator anymore," said Geoffrey Millstone, owner of Clarksburg Travel Service and three Hewes Avenue garage spaces.
Millstone, who's occupied a space in the garage since it opened in 1975, isn't thrilled about the additional parking fee, however. He feels the entire situation is the city's fault because of what he believes to be the city's long-standing irresponsibility with money.
"I think it sucks out loud," Millstone said. "We don't have parking in Clarksburg, and that's the city's fault. I'm sorry it's gonna cost $124,000 to repair that thing, but they should have been doing it all along."
City council members agree that the Hewes Avenue parking garage, as well as the Clarksburg-Harrison County Library lot, desperately needs to be upgraded. Council member Kathy Folio adds that the city failed to address the issue properly in the past.
"I'm not happy about this increase," Folio said. "Previous councils had deferred maintenance on the garage. We've tied up all our money for the Municipal Building. For the sake of the people who park here, we have to do this."
The higher rates would upgrade the city's parking facilities, generating $124,967 in yearly revenue. The upgrade of the library lot, estimated at $218,650, would add 24 free spaces for library patrons and employees, along with 35 metered spaces.
Combined with the Hewes Avenue garage upgrade, estimated at $901,500, the city must come up with at least $1.1 million for the parking make-over.
Even then, the city has another challenge ahead: freeing up property for students at Fairmont State College's new Clarksburg campus. The city has an obligation to provide accessibility to 250 parking spaces for the school. About 70 to 80 more spots are still needed, according to City Manager Percy Ashcraft.
Purchasing the One Valley Bank lot on Washington Avenue and the Dodge Court property are possible solutions, Ashcraft said. The $915,000 estimated cost of securing the property, however, has council members searching for other options.
"We're using tax-payer dollars for a non-tax paying entity," Folio said. "It's not going to help people downtown."
Ashcraft said the proposal will probably be met with opposition. But he said the parking lot improvements will provide better access to parking meters, ending the long searches for a parking spot and reducing traffic. Both would be in the community's best interest, he said.
Consideration of a resolution to approve the parking increases will be discussed during a special meeting of the Clarksburg Parking Authority at 9:30 a.m. today in the Municipal Building. An ordinance should be drawn up at a public hearing on July 2.
Until then, some meter users feel they're at the mercy of the city.
"I oppose it," said Richard Mitchell, a dental technician at the Central Dental Laboratory and 63-year Clarksburg resident. "But I'll probably have to pay it anyway."