RED BANK: STEEP PARKING FEE HIKE PROPOSED

rb parking 041416 2Fees for parking in downtown lots would double, while metered spots on the street would see a 50-percent increase. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

taxesRed Bank’s council laid two controversial proposals on the table Wednesday night:

• a budget that debuts with a 5.5-percent property-tax increase

• and a plan to soften the blow to taxpayers with a sharp increase in parking fees.

The backlash to the parking plan was immediate, both in the audience and on the governing body’s dais.

jay hermann 042716Council members Linda Schwabenbauer and Mark Taylor listen as commercial landlord Jay Herman speaks against a proposed parking rate increase they support. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

As written, the budget carries a 5.5-percent increase in the municipal tax, or roughly $115 more per year for the owner of a residential property assessed at the average $354,497. Those figures were unchanged from those reported by redbankgreen earlier this month.

As she did at the time, Councilwoman Linda Schwabenbauer, who heads the budget-drafting finance committee, said the spending plan is still evolving, and that the final tax increase would be less than 5.5 percent. But she was unable to say how much less, except that “it will be closer to zero. We won’t get there, but it will be closer to zero.”

The budget, however, got little attention at the council’s semimonthly meeting. Instead, the proposed parking-fee increase, crafted explicitly to tamp down the tax hike, was the subject of more than an hour’s debate.

Under the proposal:

• the fee for parking in any borough-owned lot downtown would double, to $1 an hour

• the minimum purchase in the lot would become two hours, up from one hour at present

• street-meter fees would jump to $1.50 an hour, from $1

• parking permit prices would soar to $180 per month, from $135, or $500 for six months, up from $400.

“I know it’s painful for some people,” said Mayor Pasquale Menna. But other nearby towns, including Long Branch and Asbury Park, have higher parking fees, “and there doesn’t seem to be a negative impact,” he said.

But there will be, warned Jay Herman, a principal in Downtown Investors, which owns a handful of office buildings in the central business district, all with their own parking lots.

“I am terribly concerned this will be a disaster for Red Bank, not just the business community,” he said. Raising rates will repel visitors, as well as merchants who might otherwise set up shop here, he said.

The two-hour minimum in the lots, he said, will deter customers who run into town on a quick errand and can’t find a spot on the street.

The overall effect of the higher rates, said Herman, is that fewer customers will come into town, causing the value of downtown properties to drop “much faster than the quarters are going to come in.

“There’s a limit to how many times you can slap a customer in the face,” Herman said, citing the imposition of paid parking, the installation of balky kiosks, and $38 parking violations, as prior slights. “The actions you proposed tonight are nothing like a welcome mat. They’re another slap.”

Howard Bernstein, owner of the Spice and Tea Exchange on Monmouth Street, said the town needs a “comprehensive management plan for parking.” He said the permit parking system is “a complete joke,” because he often can’t find a space in the lot to which his permit is assigned, and still gets a $38 ticket for parking elsewhere.

Raising rates means “we are going to lose a lot of people” who otherwise might shop here, he said.

Jim Scavone, executive director of the downtown promotion agency Red Bank RiverCenter, said using parking revenue “to cover the budget deficit to the benefit of residents may be short-sighted,” when the money might otherwise be used to help solve parking shortages.

“The parking fees will never pay for a parking garage,” Menna retorted, adding that the cost-per-space to build a multilevel facility would exceed $20,000.

“But they will pay for other solutions,” Scavone said.

Temple Gourmet Chinese owner Victor Kuo said that the council’s new Republican majority was “supposed to stand for fiscal responsibility. But you’re trying to balance the budget with quarters.”

“We don’t do this capriciously,” said Schwabenbauer. “Our rates haven’t changed in 15 years.”

Councilwoman Cindy Burnham, elected as a Republican and now seeking re-election as an independent after being excluded from the GOP ticket earlier this month, voiced ambivalence about the plan.

“I think it’s great we’re increasing our parking price, because we’re the cheapest around,” she said. “But I don’t think we should use revenue from parking to balance our budget.”

“We would be foolish not to use our resources to the benefit of our residents,” Menna replied.

Burnham later voted no on the motion to introduce the parking amendment. She was joined in opposition by Councilman Ed Zipprich, a Democrat.

Their votes drew a rebuke from GOP Councilman Mike Whelan, who said both had supported the plan at a parking committee meeting held Monday night.

Burnham, however, said she had understood that the plan was to keep fees in the East Side parking lots at their present level, so more downtown employees would be incentivized to park there, freeing up other spots for visitors. Zipprich said he changed his mind after hearing from merchants.

“The business community came in tonight and pled their case,” he said. “We have to listen to that as well.”

Unmentioned was a plan Schwabenbauer said was under consideration earlier this month: to expand the hours of parking meter collections from the current 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. to a 12-hour period that starts at 10 a.m. and ends at 10 p.m. The change could generate up to $275,000 in annual revenue, she said at the time.

Schwabenbauer told redbankgreen after Wednesday’s meeting that boosting the rates could generate “a few hundred thousand” dollars in additional revenue — but not enough to cancel out the tax increase.

“It’s not huge, but it will move the needle,” she said.

A detailed discussion of the budget will be scheduled, as in years past, Schwabenbauer said, and a final vote on the spending plan is expected at the council’s May 25 meeting. The parking ordinance could be voted on two weeks earlier.

Here’s the proposed parking ordinance: RB 2016-06