Meter1_1 A plan to extend enforcement of Red Bank’s parking meter laws by two hours on weekdays appears to be dead on arrival.

Moving in to take its place, though, is a proposal by downtown merchants for a possible doubling of street meter rates, to $1 an hour.

It sounds, at first blush, contrary to the interests of business owners, admits Tom Fishkin, owner of Readies Fine Foods on Monmouth Street. But he says merchants and restaurateurs are getting behind the idea because it does what many of them have not been able to do: force their employees to park in the municipal lots, where meter rates would remain at 50 cents per hour.

That would have the effect of freeing up more street spots for shoppers, he says, encouraging more visits by consumers who want to pop in at just one or two businesses.

Street spots “are so underutilized by consumers because they’re monopolized by store employees and office workers,” said Fishkin, who is also vice chairman of RiverCenter, which promotes the business district.

He noted particular clusters of spaces on Broad and White streets that are consistently occupied throughout the work day by the same cars, all belonging to employees of a second-floor office and a hair salon, respectively.

Mayor Pasquale Menna last month floated the idea of extending enforcement on all meters by two hours on weekdays, until 8p, in an effort to offset plummeting revenue to the borough parking authority, whose surpluses are used to keep property taxes in check.

But appears to have changed his mind. At last night’s borough council meeting, he tabled a measure slated for introduction that would have made the enforcement change effective, if passed by the all-Democrat governing body.

Fishkin and other RiverCenter representatives met with Menna and Councilman Art Murphy on the issue last Friday, Fishkin said, and urged them to back the street-meter increase instead.

After last night’s council session, however, Menna declined to endorse the idea of doubling rates, saying it was just one of several ideas being kicked around. But he added that quick action is needed.

“It will have to be rolled out in January, because we are certainly coming up to a dire forecast,” he said.

Over the next few weeks, he said, borough officials will conduct a detailed analysis of several options, including their expected impacts on borough revenue.

Meantime, Fishkin said, RiverCenter hopes to rally business owners to support the street rate plan. And shoppers? He believes most won’t object to paying an extra 25 cents per half hour for the benefit of a spot in front of or near a business they want to quickly patronize.

Those who object can still park in the public lots at the 50-cents-per-hour rate, he said.