Councilman Michael Ballard, center, and Mayor Pasquale Menna on election night 2017. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank’s mayor and council say they’re “hopeful and optimistic” about implementing the recommendations of a bombshell parking study delivered this month.
The assertion was made Tuesday in an unusual press release that appeared to walk back comments made by Mayor Pasquale Menna and Councilman Michael Ballard to redbankgreen last week, when they termed a key recommendation in the report potentially “catastrophic” and a “terrible hit” for taxpayers.
The press release, issued on the stationery of the “Office of the Mayor & Council” and posted on the borough website, addresses a first-in-a-generation comprehensive study of borough parking operations. The study was conducted by Carrie Krasnow and Brian Bartholomew, of New York-based Walker Consultants, and unveiled at a public meeting January 10.
In it, Krasnow and Bartholomew estimated the downtown business district needs an additional 221 parking spots on weekdays and 98 for evening and weekend use. That’s in contrast to claims, driven largely by the retail and restaurant community, that the town needed to act quickly to add 500 or more parking spaces downtown.
Moreover, the study’s authors said it would be “foolish” to recommend the town develop the White Street lot as a parking garage because the borough’s parking operations are, in their word, “broken.”
Bartholomew and Krasnow recommended a number of changes to the operations and financing of parking, including one that the town “wean” itself from draining the parking utility surplus to fill holes in the general town budget and keep a lid on property taxes.
The borough has pulled $3 million from the parking utility over the last three years to bolster the general fund.
“Lower tax rates are popular, but over time this practice has hurt the ability of the parking system to provide the service it was intended to provide, and that the public wants,” the report says.
Last Wednesday, following a council meeting at which the report went unmentioned, Ballard, who chairs the budget-crafting borough finance committee, told redbankgreen in response to questions that weaning, as suggested in the report, would result in a “terrible hit” to taxpayers.
Menna went further, saying the impact of such measures would be “catastrophic,” adding, “I don’t see it happening.”
The press release issued Tuesday appears an attempt to soften those comments. It cites remarks made by Business Administrator Ziad Shehady at the conclusion of Walker’s presentation, when he said that town officials “look at the recommendations in this report seriously, and with the interest of being able to implement them all as best as possible within our constraints financially and operationally.”
Also from the press release:
A major implementation task calls for the Borough to “wean General Fund of parking revenues and reinvest parking revenues into parking.” Because of the fiscal magnitude of this recommendation, Mayor Pasquale Menna expressed his personal concern about this recommendation, but stressed that he remains open-minded and has reached no conclusions with respect to how this task will be implemented. “Walker Consultants provided the Borough with an excellent and thought-provoking product. It is important to consider their recommendations holistically and work with Red Bank’s business community to find solutions in the best interest of all stakeholders.
The council’s parking committee, headed by Councilman Erik Yngstrom, “will meet several times over the coming weeks to carefully analyze the implementation tasks in
order to develop an execution plan for consideration by the governing body,” the press release states, adding: “The Council looks forward to working with our professionals and administration to understand how the implementation tasks can be effected in the most fiscally prudent manner.”
Downtown promotion agency Red Bank RiverCenter contributed $25,000 toward Walker’s $52,350 fee for the study.