By JOHN T. WARD
One of the key recommendations of a bombshell study of Red Bank parking appears unlikely to be adopted by borough officials anytime soon, redbankgreen has learned.
At issue: the council’s annual siphoning of the surplus generated by parking meters and kiosks in order to slow property tax increases. Ending the practice, says Mayor Pasquale Menna, would be “catastrophic” for taxpayers.
Unveiled two weeks ago, the $52,350 study by New York-based Walker Consultants found the borough’s parking system “broken.” Among its foremost suggestions: borough hall must quit tapping the parking fund of cash to keep a lid on taxes, and instead invest that money in a professional parking manager, new collection technology and more.
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,” Walker executives Carrie Krasnow and Brian Bartholomew wrote in their report.
Without those funds, “parking programs and facilities have suffered, and parking equipment and technology has long outlived its effective life-cycle,” they wrote.
Tapping the parking surplus also means there’s “no there is no parking manager to oversee key planning and operations functions,” they wrote. “Long-term parking planning is nonexistent, which has been in part the impetus of this report.”
The study recommends the council “wean” itself from the parking account over no more than three years to accomplish “total transfer elimination.”
Adopting other recommendations in the report while failing to hire a parking professional empowered “to make all parking decisions” would only mean more money will end up in the general fund “without resolving the parking issues in Red Bank,” Krasnow and Bartholomew wrote.
But using the parking meters as a way to replenish the general fund has been going on the first parking meter was installed decades ago, Menna said. And he’s in no hurry to change that, he told redbankgreen Wednesday night after the first regular council meeting since the study dropped — a meeting at which not a word was said about the study.
Menna praised the report as “comprehensive” and said it pointed “a way forward in terms of parking.” But as for turning off the spigot?
“I believe that a termination of the revenue that goes to the general fund would not be helpful to the residents of Red Bank, because that’s a monetization of borough assets,” Menna said. “I believe there has to be a dedicated fund that would reserve an amount for improvements — that’s the heart of the report. But a complete weaning, or a weaning over three years, would be catastrophic at this point, and I don’t see it happening.”
Councilman Michael Ballard, who heads the budget-setting finance committee, was also dubious.
He said the council’s direction on the study would be influenced by the parking committee, headed by Councilman Erik Yngstrom, which hadn’t yet met to discuss it. But Ballard said following the recommendation would result in “a heavy hit to taxpayers.”
Referring to the parking system as “an asset that the residents own,” he said it would be “a terrible hit.”
Ballard said he is “open” to hiring a parking professional, and “if there’s a way we can keep the residents from taking the hit and get a parking director, I would certainly consider it.” But he wants to keep as much revenue as possible flowing into the general fund, he said.
The Walker study considered the possibility that the council might balk at giving up the revenue.
“If Borough officials cannot agree on this method of operation for the Parking Utility, the only remaining option to make parking successful in Red Bank is the creation of a Parking Authority,” the report said. “This would remove the Borough from all parking management responsibilities and transfer them to a semi-autonomous agency.”
The council, however, would have to authorize creation of the authority.