OCEAN CITY — After letting the opportunity slip through their hands last year, the Mayor and City Council were poised to not make the same mistake twice on Monday.
It took about a minute and a half for the council to unanimously pass the new Hugh T. Cropper Inlet Parking Lot rates through first reading, and in those 90 seconds, the town now sits one reading away from an additional $550,000 in revenue, according to City Engineer Terry McGean.
The ordinance will establish new fees for hourly rates at the 1,200-space Inlet lot, both in-season and off-season jumping to $2.50 an hour from Memorial Day to Labor Day and $1.50 an hour from April 15 to the week before Memorial Day, and after Labor Day to Oct. 15.
City Manager Dennis Dare said parking at the Inlet lot was and still is a tremendous bargain, and he points to public parking lots in cities and other resorts in his hope that people consider this an incremental change, rather than price gouging.
“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.”
The council, which had been split on the idea of raising the fee, now seems to see no other choice when facing a difficult budget balancing act.
The one entity that won’t be seeing a benefit from this hike is the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC), which gets a percentage of the lot parking fees to use for land acquisition and other revitalization efforts for the downtown area.
Last year, about $300,000 was put into a fund for OCDC to use for projects based on the 50 cents an hour it gets on Inlet fares on Saturdays and Sundays.
“Even with the increase in price for hourly rates, we are still going to continue to get 50 cents of that, so I don’t expect what goes into our fund to change very much,” said Glenn Irwin, executive director of OCDC.
Mayor Rick Meehan pointed out that even though Monday’s vote was a mere blink of an eye, he contests that there has been more than enough debate on the subject over the course of the last 18 months.
“We’ve talked about it, and looked at every angle,” said Meehan. “I thought that we should have made this change last year, and I think this time around, even those who were against it now realize that it’s probably the right time for the change.”