PORTSMOUTH — City staff are hosting a meeting on Thursday night about a proposed Neighborhood Parking Program.

The meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. in City Council chambers in City Hall, is being held to give South End residents a chance to weigh in on the proposed program, which would test a parking permits system for certain residential streets.

The city is working on a plan for to launch the pilot program in the city's South End and Islington Creek neighborhoods.

Public Works Director Peter Rice told Islington Creek residents who attended a meeting about the program last week that the City Council will ultimately have to decide what kinds of fees, if any, neighborhood residents will have to pay to participate in the program. He stressed there will be no fees for what is expected to be the first year of the pilot program.

When several residents bristled at paying for permits or paying for the neighborhood to participate in the program, Rice told them “the feedback we’re getting is you don’t want any fee for the program, I think it’s pretty clear.”

Assistant Mayor Cliff Lazenby, who attended last week’s meeting, cautioned that he didn’t “think the idea yet is that the permits would be free long term.”

Not only does the neighborhood have to agree to participate in the program, “there’s also the rest of the city who need to be for this and support this especially because there’s going to be costs involved,” he said.

“We have to keep in mind there’s going to be costs associated with doing a program,” Lazenby said. “We have to try and find the right balance so it works out that the additional costs that would pay for this … are going to be acceptable for Portsmouth taxpayers not just Islington Creek residents.”

Several Islington Creek residents pointed to the city’s new Foundry Place Garage, which is located near their neighborhood, and is slated to open on Halloween, and how it will impact their neighborhood.

Several residents suggested parking revenue from the new garage could be used to pay for the Neighborhood Parking Program.

Rice noted that overall parking revenues support “a number of things beyond parking,” including $2.4 million that comes off the city's general fund, crossing guards at school, senior transportation and downtown snow removal.

“To add another program such as the neighborhood parking program on to that, there’s a cost associated with that,” Rice said. “We’re not saying that it shouldn’t be free. We’re not saying that it shouldn’t be subsidized."

Rice stressed it’s important to look at the “costs associated with it and look at the overall program and say, 'OK, there’s going to be a point you don’t want to grow the program so it’s not sustainable.'”

By conducting the pilot program, the city will get “a better handle on what the costs are,” Rice said.

He also stressed that city staff is responding to grassroots calls in the city for the neighborhood parking program.

“The City Council is directing us to do this and we’re trying to help navigate this,” Rice said. “It’s going to be an adventure, we’re going to figure it out."

Benjamin Fletcher, the city’s parking director, previously said the South End pilot program area will likely encompass Court Street to the Sanders Fish Market on Marcy Street and from Pleasant Street to Court Street, including Mechanic and Marcy streets.

During last week’s Islington Creek meeting, Fletcher said the program at this point would include four parking permits per household, along with two guest permits per household.

People who didn’t live in the neighborhood would be allowed to park there for two hours but then face parking fines that have not been determined yet, Fletcher said.

The recommended enforcement hours would be from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. but “can be adjusted if those needs are greater or less than that,” he said.

He added that parking permits “need to be considered more of a hunting license rather than a guaranteed space because we are still talking about fluid inventory.”

Cabot Street resident Elizabeth Bratter told city staff at last week’s meeting that “Portsmouth has allowed a massive amount of growth. The amount of parking required for the hotels, for the new condos, for the new businesses, does not meet the needs of those buildings."

She added when she looks at venues like Prescott Park or Strawbery Banke Museum “that don’t have enough parking I want the city to start addressing that issue.”

“We’re just the casual people who have been totally run over by the city not protecting the neighborhoods by doing this,” Bratter said. “You’re putting a Band-Aid on this issue.”

Cabot Street resident Jennifer Lombardo questioned whether non-residents should be allowed to park in neighborhoods where there’s a parking program.

People who take a Pilates class near her house already end up taking her parking spot “when I come back from running my errands.”

She wondered if the two-hour parking for non-residents would work “for us on Cabot Street where we have 10 houses and five parking spots.”

Fletcher said the program was “designed to address the long-term downtown employee that is creating in everybody’s eyes the primary issue.”