Drivers in St. Cloud will pay more per hour to park at meters and in city ramps starting in April — the first increase in 20 years.

The cost to park at one of the city's on-street meters will go from 50 cents to $1 per hour and ramp fees will increase from 80 cents to $1 per hour. The City Council approved the increase Monday, noting the need for funds to maintain parking meters and ramps.

"We have a system with deferred maintenance that needs to be taken into consideration in the next few years," City Council President Jeff Goerger said before the 4-3 vote. "We are depleting the reserves from a system and that cannot go on indefinitely."

Tracy Hodel, St. Cloud's public service director, said the city's parking fund has been operating at a deficit. Without the rate hike, projections showed this year's parking income to be $2.23 million while expenses were expected to be about $2.25 million.

St. Cloud has 3,560 parking spaces at on-street meters and in lots and ramps, and they are full most of the time. The city has been using reserve funds to pay for maintenance and repairs, but that balance is shrinking, too, Hodel said.

The council also approved a 10% increase in the rate for contract and permit parking in the city's five ramps, currently $700 a year. Those rates were last raised in 2008.

With the new rates, parking in St. Cloud will still be cheaper than in Minneapolis, where meters cost $2 to $3 per hour. Meter rates in Rochester range from 50 cents to $2.50 per hour, and in Duluth, the rate is 75 cents an hour.

Reaction to the new parking fees was mixed.

Cathy Mehelich, the city's economic development director, said higher parking fees probably won't deter business development in downtown St. Cloud. The biggest problem, she said, is a lack of parking.

Brian Myres, chairman of the board of the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation, said he was OK with higher meter fees, but he said imposing more costly contract and permit fees would be "like a tax" and harm efforts to attract jobs downtown.

Council Member Mike Conway, who voted against the increase, said the 50-cent increase might be too much at once, especially after city staff in November recommended only a 25-cent increase in meter rates.

Others on the council felt the hike was warranted and would prevent the council from having to raise prices again in the next few years.

"The system should pay for itself," Goerger said. "We need it to be in good repair and safe."

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768