File photo: Downtown Marietta. Visitors to the square will pay more to park after a private company takes over operations of two county-owned parking decks.

Marietta Square parking deck fees to increase, again

Visitors to Marietta Square will likely pay more to park in two county-owned parking garages after commissioners approved a contract to privatize operations Tuesday.

The parking decks, next to the county government building and courthouse, have been a source of consternation on the Cobb County Board of Commissioners because the county has been losing money on them since 2012. They cost $11 million to build and the county continues to pay $750,000 a year on the debt, but the lots only bring in about half that.

Last year, Cobb, which has managed the decks with county employees, eliminated free parking on nights and Saturdays, and increased fees. But the changes did not bring in the additional revenue that the board hoped for. The county can’t sell the garages yet either under terms of its bond contract.

“The government provides services, we don’t know how to run a business,” Chairman Mike Boyce said of the county’s decision to privatize operations.

The new operator, LAZ Parking, runs parking lots across the metro area. The county will pay the company $128,000 a year with an annual 3 percent increase and have final say over hours and fee structure. LAZ could also be eligible for a bonus if the garages bring in more than $700,000.

The fee structure put forward by LAZ will further reduce free parking from the first half hour to the first 15 minutes, and increase fees.

The first hour would cost $2; 2 hours would cost $4; 2-4 hours would cost $6; 4 to 6 hours would cost $7 and anything over six hours or a lost ticket would cost $8. The company would also eliminate free parking on Sundays and most reserved spaces currently used by county employees.

The contract with LAZ was approved by a vote of 4-1 Tuesday, with Commissioner Keli Gambrill in opposition.

“We were just moving the buckets,” Gambrill said. “We could have easily increased the fees ourselves.”

Other commissioners who approved the contract nevertheless urged LAZ to keep the first half hour free and voiced concern over the potential impact to nearby businesses. LAZ has said it will offer a validation program.

But Margo Parish, a manager at Cool Beans coffee shop on Marietta Square, said any increase to parking fees will have a negative affect on customers and especially employees, who have to park all day.

“We’re working to pay to come to work,” she said. “It’s very frustrating.”

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