Following is a letter I sent to our local paper in Lake Geneva, WI., yesterday:

Letter to the Editor
Lake Geneva Regional News

Everyone hates parking meters, except maybe city government, because they give the city another way to tax drivers who patronize local businesses, doctors and services. Of course, the merchants hate meters, because they give shoppers another last minute reason to drive by their stores and head out to the big box merchants, who know the value of free and plentiful parking.

And cities love giving out parking tickets, because tickets add another gigantic tax on top of the regular taxes charged by meters, and usually make people feel too guilty to complain.

The last time I wrote a letter to the editor about the inconvenience of parking in Lake Geneva, several years ago, I was daunted to see in the same issue a front page story and photo of a retiring parking supervisor receiving, of all things, a gold-plated meter head as a going away present from the city.

Yes, parking fees and tickets are golden to the city. They don’t have to raise other taxes that citizens might notice, and influence their decisions at the voting booth. I recall hearing that Lake Geneva’s meters were first installed to raise money for a parking deck, to relieve the parking shortage downtown and help the merchants. It was never built. The city got used to the extra parking income, now close to a million a year.

The new electronic meters will be great, requiring a walk down the street and back, rain or shine, tired or not, just to pay more for parking, often buying time we won’t even need. While the electronic meters will cost the taxpayers a million or so to install, not to mention the cost of service, with no decrease in city-paid parking meter checkers (to issue all those tickets), the city says the pay back from the new system could, maybe, happen within several years. Start holding your breath.

Meanwhile, we just returned from our second trip this summer over by ferry to the little Michigan lakeside resort town of Saugatuck. Over there, where they have lots of nice shops, galleries and restaurants downtown, parking on city streets is free for 3 hours, to anyone (they appreciate out-of-town shoppers over there). They’ve even been known to put thank you notes on windshields of violators, pointing out that there are large free lots at each end of town, with convenient shuttle busses.

I tend to associate free parking with a friendly, small town atmosphere. Amen.

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