MAIN STREET — City Hall did shoppers a favor when it installed smart parking meters that eliminated the need for spare change, but those spending money in the city may be less thrilled about what’s coming next.

City workers have begun installing sensors in parking spaces with the new smart meters that can tell whether or not a car has been moved within the time allotted for the spot, effectively ending the practice of meter feeding and forcing people out of prime parking spots.

“With the sensors, if you try to enter your credit card and go above two hours, it won’t let you,” said Don Patterson, of City Hall’s Finance Department.

Eventually, the meters will send information back to a parking website so that drivers circling in their cars can identify available street-parking spots and allow people to re-up the meter using a smartphone.

According to a staff report from October 2011, the project cost $4.5 million to replace 6,100 traditional meters in city limits.

The new meters are expected to increase revenue by approximately $1.7 million over two years because they will work better.

The installation has already struck a sensitive area for Main Street merchants, who found that the impacted parking meters had signs that restricted parking between May 1 and July 31, the duration of the entire project.

The signs were only supposed to have the date that individual meters would be out of commission, most likely one or two days and not three months, Patterson said.

“Staff was immediately sent out to replace the signs with ones that are correct,” Patterson said.

Business owners fear that the signs could warn people off of the street for months, said Gary Gordon, president of the Main Street Business Improvement Association.

m ashley@smdp.com