By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank’s parking fees are going up.
The borough council approved rate increases Wednesday night, billing the action as a “compromise” with downtown business owners.
Still, merchants decried the hikes, which they said will further alienate potential visitors already turned off by metering, aggressive enforcement and costly tickets.Language School owner Ingeborg Perndorfer said the increase would hit minimum-wage workers hard. Below, business owners gathered outside the council chambers after the vote. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
• the fee for parking in any borough-owned lot downtown would double, to $1 an hour
• street-meter fees would jump to $1.50 an hour, from $1
• parking permit prices would rise to $180 per month, from $135, or $500 for six months, up from $400.
The increase was driven, said Republican Councilman Mark Taylor, by the need to soften the blow of an anticipated 5.5-percent increase in the municipal property tax, or roughly $115 more per year for the owner of a residential property assessed at the average $354,497.
The parking rate increase “is something that has to happen tonight” in order to reduce the tax hike in time for a scheduled May 25 budget adoption vote, Taylor said, after Councilman Ed Zipprich, a Democrat, suggested tabling the parking ordinance.
A provision to set a two-hour minimum in parking lots, up from the present one hour, was eliminated, based on “community feedback,” said Taylor.
In addition, a proposed “sunset” provision that would revert parking fees to previous levels if the council does not vote to authorize a downtown parking garage was tabled after borough Attorney Jean Cipriani said adding it to the ordinance at the last minute would require re-starting the adoption process. Taylor said he’s bring it back at thenext council meeting.
“We need a parking garage,” he said. “It has to happen.”
The sunset provision arose in part as a result of input from a newly formed Red Bank Business Alliance, whose aim is to work with residents, RiverCenter and the council to “enhance the vibrancy” of the town, according to its mission statement.
Still, business and property owners remained critical of the fee hike.
“I’m here to promise you that at the end of the day, if you approve this, whatever you gain in 2016, you’re going to lose in 2017,” warned Jay Herman, a principal in Downtown Investors, which owns a handful of downtown office buildings. The revenue generated by the fee hike, he said, would be more than offset by adverse impacts on business activity.
Ingeborg Perndorfer, owner of the Language School on Broad Street, said the local government continually foists new costs on businesses to solve its fiscal problems. The latest, she said, would also hurt low-wage employees.
“It’s always us,” she said. “This move is not a plan. It’s a scheme to fill a hole very quickly.”
Restaurateur George Lyristis, who owns the Bistro and Teak with his two brothers, said the hike is an additional “inconvenience” that gives potential shoppers a reason not to come into town. His lunchtime takeout orders are sharply down, he said, which he attributes to parking issues.
“The last five years have been the most difficult of the 20 years we’ve been here,” he said, and “it’s everything to do with parking.”
Gaetano’s and Mr. Pizza Slice owner Tom Cappello pressed the council to create an economic development committee, and Industry magazine publisher Anthony Barbera called for allowing more large-scale development, at greater heights, to bring in tens of thousands more dollars in property taxes, rather than relying on “quarters” from parking.
“Anybody who wants to go to 60 feet should be allowed to,” he said. “This is real money. You don’t have to go looking for quarters like beggars.”
Branch Avenue resident Barbara Boas was one of several speakers critical of the council “trying to balance a budget with parking meters.”
Council President Cindy Burnham, who’s seeking re-election as an independent, and Democrat Zipprich vote no on the increase. Burnham failed in her push to have the council leave rates in the East Side lots at present levels while increasing them in lots west of Broad Street in order to drive downtown employees into the easterly lots, thus freeing up the more popular White Street and English Plaza lots.
“We need a comprehensive plan,” said Zipprich, “and if we’re going to shoot from the hip here and adopt this ordinance, I don’t think we’re addressing this in an appropriate fashion.”
Here’s the parking ordinance, before it was revised to eliminate the two-hour minimum: RB 2016-06
An informal budget presentation is scheduled for May 18, 6:30 p.m., at borough hall, with a budget adoption vote scheduled for May 25. Meantime, budget suggestions may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are the key documents: