Raising Key West's street parking rates to $2 per hour will mean motorists will pay more in the Southernmost City than in larger cities like Miami and Fort Lauderdale, but an amount lower or equal to parking rates in smaller Florida towns.
City commissioners are taking a hard look at suggestions from staff members to raise meter rates from $1 to $1.50 or $2 per hour to help make up a $1 million shortfall in next year's budget.
Part of the shortfall will be met with an increase in property taxes, but the proposed increase in meter rates, officials said, will make up the difference and spread the cost between residents and visitors.
Rates at municipal lots, like the one at Key West Bight, will likely go up as well, but the city's parking garage on Grinnell Street is expected to remain unchanged.
John Wilkins, Key West's parking manager, said one thing the city won't do is zone out different areas, as is done in some other places.
"Here you can buy four hours at a time and park anywhere on the street," he said, when addressing city commissioners at a budget workshop.
The city's garage and some lots, such as the one at Mallory Square, already have hourly rates higher than the current street rate of $1. But Wilkins said consumers are willing to pay the extra money for lots and garages because of security and the convenience of not having to parallel park.
"People like to park in lots more than they like to park in the street," he said. "Those are some benefits that would lead to a higher rate."
More revenue also could result when the city installs meters on blocks where they do not currently exist in Old Town. Wilkins said the 1300 block of Whitehead Street and 500 block of Front Street have uncommitted spaces. In total, Wilkins said, there are 42 Old Town spaces from which the city is making no money and he plans to change that.
He and other city staff did an informal check of rates in other Florida cities, finding parking to run generally at $2.50 to $4 per hour, including lots and garages.
The Citizen did its own survey of cities and towns in the state, focusing on street parking.
In Fort Lauderdale, the street prices are generally lower, ranging from a low of 50 cents per hour to $1.25 per hour, with cell phones usable for putting time on meters.
Miami street prices range from 50 cents to $1 per hour.
Fort Myers is $2 per hour for meters.
St. Augustine charges $1.50 per hour, with a 50-cent rate for those who possess a discount card.
Clearwater rates are $1.50 to $2, depending on the time of year.
Cocoa Beach charges between $1.50 and $2.
Reactions to the proposed rates by drivers in Key West varied.
"Ridiculous," said Mary Brown, a local woman, as she pumped quarters into the meter where she had parked her sport utility vehicle at Simonton and Caroline streets.
On Whitehead Street, across from the Ernest Hemingway House, Dunedin resident David Wheeler said he doesn't think he will be affected, as he usually parks in private lots when he visits Key West.
"I don't think a lot of people will say a whole lot about it," he said of the proposed increases. "They'll be happy just to find a place to park."