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Jacksonville merchant protests fees

JACKSONVILLE - Jacksonville should exempt small businesses from the new parking fee that city officials began collecting last month, a local barber told the City Council Tuesday.

"I don't feel small merchants are part of the parking problem and they shouldn't pay," said Stan Bialecki, owner of Jacksonville Barber.

Jacksonville's seasonal downtown district caters to tourists, most of whom browse small shops during regular business hours, he said. In the evening, Jacksonville streets fill up with patrons of the city's largest employers - restaurants, he said.

Bialecki also asked the council to create employee parking zones to help free up parking spaces in downtown Jacksonville. Employees would be issued a permit and would be required to park in certain parts of town.

While the parking fee is minimal for small businesses, it's one more tax added to an on-going financial struggle, he said.

"We're in a slippery economy, not just here, but everywhere," he said. "Every little bit (of tax relief) helps. We've already had one shop go out of business this summer."

Council member Bill Leep said the parking fee was likely not the straw that broke the camel's back for the failing business.

"I watch town merchants go through fevers and chills of the economy and you can't say just because we are levying the parking fee, someone is going out of business," Leep said.

"It might be attrition or lack of business planning or anything."

Last month, Bialecki presented to the City Council letters written by 35 Jacksonville business owners who oppose the new fee that was due to be imposed July 1.

"Those letters are merchants' voices," he said.

He expressed frustration that the same merchants who wrote a letter opposing the parking fee paid their dues a few months later.

"It doesn't make any sense why you would write the letter and then write the check," Bialecki said. "They probably feel like they have no choice."

So far, the city has collected about half of the parking fees, $3,780 out of an estimated $6,300 revenue, said Paul Wyntergreen, city administrator.

The fees will be used to pay for downtown parking projects, such as repainting lines, adding signs, creating new spaces and enforcing parking rules, Wyntergreen said.

Before Bialecki spoke to the council, Mayor Jim Lewis appointed him to the Parking Commission. Made up of residents and city leaders, the commission created a plan to resolve the city's seasonal parking shortages.

"He's got ideas that could be of value," Lewis said.

Also on Tuesday, the City Council set a schedule to talk about forming an urban renewal district in Jacksonville.

The Planning Commission and City Council will meet for a workshop on Sept. 5. On Sept. 12 and Oct. 2, the Planning Commission and City Council together will hold public hearings.

Reach reporter Melissa Martin at 776-4497, or e-mail