OCEAN CITY — The real estate might be prime, but the price is rather puny to some who would like to see revenue increases at the Inlet parking lot.
This fact, coupled with revenue numbers being virtually static, according to Ocean City Superintendent of Maintenance Bruce Gibbs, could be why town officials are hinting that a change might just be on the horizon for inlet parking lot prices.
The price for a parking spot at the Inlet lot was a heavily debated number last winter, and now that the summer numbers have come in, at slightly below last year’s curve, don’t be surprised if the Ocean City Council seriously considers bumping that cost up a bit.
“If you go to an Orioles game or try to park in a city lot in Baltimore or Washington DC, you are going to end up paying $10-$11 or more, and at the Inlet lot, you park right next to the ocean for $2 an hour,” said City Manager Dennis Dare. “The Inlet lot is filling up on weekends as early as 8:30 a.m. and some folks are staying all day and all night long because it’s such a bargain, so maybe we haven’t hit the right price point yet on what we are charging.”
In January, prior to the heavy budget discussion, but post Dare’s “rightsizing” of the local government departments and expenditures, the council opted against raising parking to $2.25 on the weekends and decided to stay at $2 per hour at the Inlet lot on the weekends and $1.50 during the week. Lower hourly rates are in place for the shoulder seasons, from April to Memorial Day weekend and from Labor Day weekend to October.
Dare said the raise could have potentially brought the town an additional $900,000 in revenue, but some members of the council were skeptical of the perception of raising another cost to tourists and locals.
“You are asking to extract from the visitors almost another million dollars, and I’m worried that you are pricing us out again and that you are running people away, and that it’s just too expensive to come to Ocean City,” said Councilman Jim Hall during the January discussion.
Oddly enough, it was Hall, who was most vocally opposed to the raise in the fees at the Inlet lot, who hinted at last month’s Recreation and Parks Committee meeting that a discussion concerning a raise in the rates should be revisited.
“I honestly didn’t think that the lot would fill up the way that it did, and I guess I didn’t take into consideration the huge numbers of day-trippers who are using that lot because it’s getting full before 9 a.m.,” said Hall, addressing his flip-flop on the matter.
As far as the numbers go, parking revenue started out at a break-neck pace in April, citing 75-percent and 96-percent increases in the Inlet lot and Cale Pay street machine revenue, respectively.
May still showed positive returns, but, like seemingly everyone else in town, the town couldn’t post positive cash flow during the proverbial clunker month of June. July bounced back with a slight increase, but August brought the projected positive numbers back to just below par from 2008.
At summer’s end, the revenue generated by the Inlet lot was down less than $2,000 or .14 percent ($1.39 million total revenue); the Cale street machines were up 2 percent ($494,991 total); and the Cale parking lot machines excluding the Inlet were down 3 percent (just under $400,000 in revenue).
Dare said the parking revenue numbers reiterate the notion that people did in fact come to Ocean City despite the bad economy, but they did spend less money and probably spent less time while they were here.
If the day-tripper trend continues in Ocean City, some feel that a Inlet parking lot increase would be prudent to not only cover the costs of the town but also an easy place to find money. Opponents of a price raise may fear a public backlash that will ring to the familiar tune of governmental price gouging.
“I think the council was a bit rash in not considering a rise in parking prices this year because I’ve always said that it’s prime real estate and it’s a user pays system,” said Council President Joe Mitrecic. “People don’t have to park there, but look at how many people stay there all day long because it’s such a bargain. I really think we need to look at that number very seriously this year.”