MADEIRA BEACH — The new parking system in city-owned lots, which requires motorists to enter their license plate number to park, is causing problems. The City Commission took action to help would-be parkers with that, and other parking-related issues, at its March 19 regular meeting.

The commission unanimously approved adding a part-time parking enforcement officer to work from spring break through September, to provide added coverage when daylight hours increase over the summer. The officer will work 20-25 hours a week, and assist the parking department’s two full-time enforcement officers.

Though called an “enforcement officer,” Parking Supervisor Brian Rau said that is not the main purpose for the new hire.

“They will have a ticketing machine, but that’s not their focus,” Rau said. “The focus will be on customer service.” According to a memorandum on the hiring request, “By having multiple officers on duty, we will have the ability to place an officer full-time at John’s Pass Village to provide customer service.”

The help is needed because the city’s new license plate-based parking system is not working as smoothly as planned.

“People are having a heck of a time putting their license plate number in,” Rau said. “We are constantly helping people. We tell them, ‘Take a picture with your phone, walk over, type it in.’”

“But the people make typos. About 15 percent of the parking purchases have to be voided because of typos. Literally, they just type the wrong number into the machine,” he said.

Rau said the city is “trying to go aggressive with customer service.”

“We tell our officers, ‘Go up to the people at the machines. Give them tips like take off your polarized sunglasses, which makes it more difficult to read the machine.’”

Mayor Maggi Black said she knows, from personal experience, “a lot of people don’t know how to work the machines.”

“During the busy season, it’s a good idea to have some additional help. People will have a much better experience,” Black said.

Resident Robert Preston said he had also seen people have trouble with the license plate-based machines. “A lot of people spend way too much time with those machines,” Preston said.

The commission voted unanimously to spend about $7,000 needed to hire a seasonal part time parking officer.

Credit card-only parking trial going well

On a positive note, a switch to parking machines that accept credit cards only, no coins, at Archibald Park is going well.

Lauree Tyner, manager at the Snack Shack, said, “People really like it. We’re giving out a lot less change.”

City Manager Jonathan Evans said the city has had no complaints about the credit card-only system.

Rau said, “Nobody seems to care.” A side effect of the changeover is that the average purchase from the machines has gone up from about $2 for cash transactions to $4 on credit cards, he said.

Tyner recommended the city put new signage up informing people they need their credit cards to park. “We have some say they didn’t bring a credit card” to Archibald, she said.

Residents must register license plates to park free

Residents who want to continue to park free in city-owned lots must come to City Hall and register their license plate numbers.

The parking stickers are going away next year, Rau said. The license plate registration must be renewed each year, he said, so that residency information can be kept up to date.

Newly elected Commissioner Doug Andrews found that out when he was recently issued a ticket. “People are confused,” he said. “You have to register, or you’re going to get a ticket.”

Residents who are given a ticket can bring it to City Hall, get registered, and the ticket will be canceled, Rau said.

Fire department in good shape, chief says

Madeira Beach’s city-owned fire department “probably provides the most efficient, most effective fire service in the county,” said Chief Derryl O’Neal.

In his annual report on the department’s operation, O’Neal said the city spends $1.5 million for fire protection, which is somewhat offset by funding from the county for EMS services, income from the Redingtons for fire protection the department provides, and inspection and user fees. That brings the cost down to just under $900,000, O’Neal said.

For that expense, Madeira Beach residents get a fire department staffed by the Chief and administrative staff, a fire inspector, three lieutenants, three driver engineers, and six firefighter/paramedics.

Clover, the firehouse dog, who travels to schools to assist in fire safety presentations and other goodwill activities comes “at no charge,” O’Neal said, adding, “She’s our own celebrity.”

The department answers about 1,700 calls a year, with an average response time of just over 4 minutes, O’Neal said. Most of those, approximately 1,200 calls, are medical calls.

O’Neal said he is “very proud of our fast response time.” The Madeira crew is the best in the county for the time it takes to get on the truck and out of the station. O’Neal attributes that to the station design and extensive training.

O’Neal and union representative Lt. George Hill said the department puts an emphasis on getting out into the community, with public education and awareness programs on public safety.

“We value the personal element, being intimately involved and getting out in the public on a regular basis,” the Chief said. Hill added, “The residents are our No. 1 priority.”

New commissioners sworn in

Two newly elected commission members were sworn in and took their seats at the meeting’s beginning.

District 4 Commissioner John Douthirt was reelected, winning a narrow victory over former Commissioner Steve Kochick.

In District 3, the new commissioner is Andrews, taking the seat formerly held by Commissioner Nancy Oakley. Andrews is a former city employee, the Parks and Recreation director, who was fired two years ago by Chief O’Neal, who was acting city manager at the time.

Andrews defeated retired businessman Roger Pryor in the election. The commission later chose Pryor to serve on the city Planning Board.

The new commission also voted to appoint District 2 Commissioner Nancy Hodges as vice mayor.