Hamilton should discuss how the municipality can best honour and assist veterans to determine if free parking is the best means of advancing this goal.
City Council will discuss the latest proposal to expand free parking to all holders of veterans license plates during the June 17 General Issues Committee meeting.
Prior to the GIC, Tuesday's Hamilton Veterans Committee meeting will make vote on their final recommendations to Council.
Current Free Parking for Veterans Policy
At present, any veteran with the official veterans' license plate over the age of 60 can receive a City permit to park for free in municipal lots and at on-street parking spots.
In 2009, City staff estimated the cost of extending free parking to all veterans to be between $300,000 to $1.3-million dollars per year.
With the City's limited resources, and jurisdiction, is this the best use of tax dollars and is it the most effective means of helping veterans?
What about housing, small business start-up grants, free transit passes as well as parking or an array of other options?
Veterans Committee Wants to Extend Program
Currently, the City will issue a free parking permit to veterans over the age of 60 residing in Hamilton with provincial veterans license plates.
The latest attempt to give all veterans free parking originated with Ward 11 Councillor Brenda Johnson in March 2014.
Johnson says there are veterans under the age of 60 in her ward would have approached her about free parking.
It was discussed at the Veterans' Advisory Committee on March 11, 2014. The Veterans' Committee fully supports Johnson's effort
Here's the full video of the debate:
(Note: there were two meetings at the same time, I was recording this while covering another meeting)
Summary points from the debate:
- Veterans Committee originally sought free parking for all veterans who qualify for a veterans plate.
- Johnson is concerned that veterans of Afghanistan and other recent overseas service under the age of 60 do not get free parking, whereas someone with no overseas service over the age of 60 does:
"They're a veteran, it doesn't matter what age you are. You are a veteran, you choose to pick up that firearm and protect this country, you should be able to be treated the same way as everyone else - no matter what generation you came from."
"We've got a 40-year-old man up in Mount Hope who can't park for free but he's been over for tour twice, and yet we have another gentleman in Binbrook he just worked in a warehouse for the Armed Forces and he gets to park for free and he's sixty."
- Councillor Sam Merulla is concerned proposing expansion may result in Council discontinuing free parking for veterans over age 60. He notes the first attempt to extend to all veterans was not accepted by Council.
- The city estimates there are approximately 9700 veterans in Hamilton. The number includes active duty and were provided to the City by Veteran's Affairs.
- In 2013, there were 326 veterans permits issued by the City.
Free Parking in Other Cities
The Canadian Parking Association informally surveyed cities across Canada in 2012 and only found a split on offering free parking for Veterans.
Many offer free parking at meters provide the veteran respects the paid time limit. (Full Listing on CPA's post here)
What is the Goal and Vision of Free Veterans Parking?
This hasn't been clearly articulated in any of the City Hall debates.
The primary thrust of the discussion is that it is a means of honouring the service of veterans - specifically, those who've served overseas.
As the Legion and Ministry of Transportation do not distinguish between honourable domestic or overseas service, the free parking will be offered to all veterans.
If the goal is solely to honour veterans, then the efficiency of implementation is not as much a concern - its designed to be symbolic.
Is Free Parking The Best Way for The City To Help Veterans?
If the goal is to help veterans, is free parking the means of doing so?
Free parking does not assist veterans who don't drive. One of Hamilton's most celebrated veterans was the late Honourable Lincoln Alexander. Alexander never held a drivers license.
Peterborough's extension of free transit passes is a possible solution.
Housing and Other Municipal Services
Housing is a municipal service that could be offered to veterans, especially some of our younger veterans who served in Afghanistan and other recent Forces missions.
I know of one younger veteran who recently returned to Hamilton and moved into a neighbourhood in need of leadership. He owns a commercial building, is involved in the neighbourhood association, and is recovering from the effects of his time in Afghanistan.
Could Hamilton better assist veterans by investing the funds for free parking into fixing damaged affordable housing units and offering them to veterans who as either affordable or market-rate rent depending upon the circumstances?
Hamilton is a center of excellence for veterans health care and support, do some of these veterans who are getting support for PTSD and other ailments require better housing and supports to complement their treatments?
There is over a month before the June 17th discussion, giving Hamiltonians an opportunity to discuss options and decide if and how the City will honour veterans by funding programs that assist them.