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Pittsfield Says 'Thank You' to Veterans with Free Parking
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
05:32AM / Friday, May 17, 2024
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The City Council voted to make parking free for veterans with plates or who register with the city effective June 1.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — City officials have decided to thank veterans for their service with free parking starting June 1.

The City Council on Tuesday approved an ordinance allowing veterans to park in municipal lots and spaces at no charge. This was brought forward by Ward 1 Councilor Kenneth Warren, Ward 4 Councilor James Conant, and Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey.

The original proposal was for veterans with designated plates but to ensure equity, it was amended to allow veterans with regular plates to register with the city for free parking. Warren came to the meeting with an amended proposal after suggestions were made during a subcommittee meeting last month.

"This is the same ordinance that we petitioned for. It was mentioned that the Committee on Ordinance and Rules two things," he said.

"One, they wanted to move this along as quickly as possible and two, there's going to be a provision for registration with the city in a way that's going to be proposed and implemented so this covers both. Either veterans plates or registration will be able to use parking for free for veterans."

City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta said the amendment is "unusual," as there is not yet a system to register veterans' license plates.

"The rest of the ordinance is not a problem approving it," he said. "This particular provision can't be implemented until a system has been approved. If the City Council wants to move ahead as it is now, just you should recognize that we don't know what that system is yet."

Commissioner of Public Services and Utilities Ricardo Morales recommended leaving free parking to veterans' plates, explaining that it could be burdensome for veterans with regular plates to have to register with the city.

"The reason for that was because certain people pay the additional amount of money to the state to get 'veteran' on their plates," Kavey explained.

"What about the veterans that don't pay that extra fee? They should also get free parking."

Morales confirmed that the city is capable of registering plates into its system so that registered veterans cannot be flagged. He suggested having a system where the plates can be taken off the list.

At first, there were differing views on the amendment, with some thinking it was clunky and sloppy, but everyone agreed by the end of the conversation and voted in favor.  Ward 6 Councilor Dina Lampiasi was absent.

The effective date was also pushed out a few weeks.

"I love this idea in concept but as we're hearing, the more I think about it the clunkier it gets. So does the vehicle have to be registered to the veteran themselves? Could it be if that person is disabled and somebody else is driving them everywhere does that person get to register?" Councilor at Large Alisa Costa said.

"It seems like a lot of complications for that benefit and I don't know where I stand on this particular ordinance at the moment but I'm not comfortable saying that this shall take effect upon its passage because then tomorrow someone could walk into the city and say, 'I want to register,' and we don't have the means to do that. So I think we either need to change the effective date or wait until we can get a clear ordinance. It just seems a little tough to implement and enforce."

She later made a friendly amendment for the ordinance to take effect on June 1.

"This is kind of sloppy, so let's just make it simple. If we approve just the veteran plates tonight, I'm on board, and then you work out everything else after the fact but it seems very sloppy," Councilor at Large Earl Persip III said.

"It seems like it's not ready. If you just want to say a veteran plate gets free parking starting tomorrow, I'm for it. Anything beyond that it's too sloppy."

Warren said he didn't care how it went through, as he just wanted to get it going so people can use it.  He apologized for the alleged sloppiness, explaining that he wrote the amendment that day.

"I think the concept of this is ideal. Of course, they should have free parking, no doubt about it in my mind," Ward 7 Councilor Rhonda Serre said.

"Identifying them as the hard part and if you're gonna go with veterans plates, there's an equity problem there for the people that can afford to buy veterans plates through the Mass registry. It should be equally accessible to all veterans, whether they can afford to buy a special plate or not."

Serre also originally favored the unrevised petition for the sake of moving it forward. Persip agreed about the equity issue and that there is a "rush to get something on the books."

"I think it's easy enough to just say a veteran comes in and shows documentation and gives their plate and they can be added in," Councilor at Large Kathy Amuso said.

Mayor Peter Marchetti said this is a "very simple solution."

"We have a Department of Veterans Services. We can complete a form that requires all the same information that all of you guys filled out when you were first elected to the City Council that has your name and your license plate number. The Department of Veteran Services can get the information to the commissioner, we can put it in there in the plate scanners," he said.

"It's a very simple process that could take us 10 minutes tomorrow morning to figure out our thing, although I would suggest that you amend the language to say that it takes place in two weeks so that two things can happen. Number one, we can inform the public of what we're doing because not everybody's home watching a meeting, and then two, it gives us a little bit of time to get our process down."

Costa said the point was well taken and that the conversation put her mind at ease.  Serre took a similar stance, reversing her opposition to the amendment.

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