Mixed signals

County Judge Hal Richards thinks this sign at the entrance of the Northwestern parking lot should be removed to avoid confusion and increase the number of people parking there rather than around the square.

With work on the Kaufman square largely complete, the Kaufman County Commissioners Court addressed what Kaufman City Manager Mike Slye has highlighted as a significant issue facing the city: downtown parking.

However, while city officials consider parking a significant issue that should be addressed quickly, County Judge Hal Richards collected evidence that he thought contradicts the gravity of the concerns.

In a document notating the number of empty parking spots around the square at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on May 15, 16 and 17, Richards noted that there was a sufficient number of spots available, contradicting the idea that there is nowhere to park.

“There seems to be an idea out there that we don’t have any parking in the county,” Richards said. “And I’d say that these numbers show that that’s basically not right.”

However, Richards did admit that regardless of the number of spots available, parking on the square would likely continue to be more and more scarce as time progresses. Compounding the problem was an issue that has been highlighted by City Manager Slye and several business-owners who operate on the square: county employees are taking up a significant slice of the parking spots not just in the middle of the square around the courthouse, but also in the areas on the outer side that city business owners think should be reserved for them.

“This is a long-running problem,” Richards said. “Particularly, it’s going to 

come to a head now that the city has done all of this work around the square. We could argue that those parking spaces on the inside of the city are ours. But the parking spaces around in front of the merchants and businesses, the city believes, should be used to help those businesses function which means that county employees would need to start parking elsewhere. That’s what they’ve asked for. 

“I don’t know when this happened, but sometime in the past this all blew up and the city was writing tickets and I think it got to be a big contentious thing. Ultimately, what I’m going to ask is that county employees park in the parking lot, not on the square. Some of those folks are not under our jurisdiction; they can park there if they want to. But I will tell you that if it doesn’t get resolved and all of the parking is taken up by county employees, they’re going to start writing tickets.”

In remarks made to business owners around the square several weeks ago, City Manager Slye said that the “bandit parking signs” erected by business owners designating certain spots for patrons of specific businesses would not be enforceable going forward, and expressed hope that if the problem of county employees taking up a big portion of the parking along the outer ring was addressed, the problem could largely be mitigated.

An additional solution suggested by precinct 4 commissioner Cates was the reconfiguration of the parking around the square. Cates figures that if the parking on the square was reconfigured, the city could add another 30 parking spaces.

Precinct 1 commissioner Mike Hunt and Judge Richards also expressed their desire to remove signs designating the parking lot located to the Northwest of the county courthouse as exclusive to “county employees.”

“We don’t need the signs,” Judge Richards said. “We’re not going to enforce any of that. I would guess that when jurors come, they don’t know whether they’re allowed to park in that parking lot.”

Precinct 2 commissioner Skeet Phillips explained that the reason those signs were erected in the first place was because employees from the meat packing plant down the street who get to work before most county employees were taking all of the parking spots nearest to the county courthouse thus requiring county employees to park further away than they thought they should have to.

“I would deal with that with the business owner directly rather than put a sign up,” Richards responded. “Take the sign down and if they start parking there, just tell them to tell their people to quit parking there.”

Conversely, however, commissioner Cates suggested that he thinks the parking directly behind the Annex building should be even more restrictive than it is currently for security reasons.

“From a purely security-related point of view, open public parking adjacent to any government building, anybody who’s been in that business will tell you, is a risk,” Cates said. “So I think we at least at some point ought to consider some sort of assigned or more restrictive parking just immediately behind the Annex.”

“It’s a shame our world’s gotten that way,” commissioner Hunt added. “It’s so convenient for the handicapped or elderly to pull up at the back door and get out and pay their taxes. We’d be taking that away from those folks.”

The parking issue on the square has been a documented issue for the city’s efforts to attract new businesses. Slye has discussed this situation with business owners in the past and Richards agreed that it was an issue that he hoped could be mitigated going forward.

“The city is really trying hard to attract,” Richards said. “I know recently they had a discussion with a restauranteur that they were really excited about, but he passed on the option of doing that because he just said there wasn’t any parking available in front of the restaurant.”

“It’s the neighborly thing to do,” Hunt added. “We want everybody to do well on the square. It’d be beneficial for us to have some places to go eat or go shop or whatever.”

“It’s our taxpayers,” Phillips said. “We want them to have convenience.”

While the commissioners did not take any specific action regarding the parking issue other than Richards’ request that county employees start parking in the Northeastern parking lot rather than in front of the square’s merchants, the commissioners did unanimously agree that the lot behind the Annex building could be improved through a re-striping and said they would look into fitting such a project into the budget going forward.

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