Council Delays Call On Parking Hike

OCEAN CITY – There’s still a strong possibility that parking rates will go up in Ocean City, but at least for now, they aren’t going anywhere.

A week after passing a motion to increase parking rates throughout the downtown area to the first reading of ordinance form, the City Council unanimously decided to table the motion and make sure raising the parking rates was appropriate.

“Could we hold off making this change until we get into the budget process and have staff come back and make the cuts first, and then if we need to add some money to it, come back and revisit this?,” asked Councilman Jim Hall. “This isn’t a cut. This is making the government bigger.”

Parking rates at the Inlet lot have been the same for six years, although the price has varied slightly depending on the day of the week and the time of the year. City Manager Dennis Dare last week proposed increasing the Inlet rates to $1.50 per hour in April, May, September and October and to $2.25 from Memorial Day to Labor Day weekends. He said the rate is similar to other resorts and would be a fair price for visitors to pay for the “prime parking real estate.”

Yet, despite the $900,000 in annual revenue that this increase, alongside the quarter raise (to $1.25 per hour from April 15-Oct. 15) in pay rates at the downtown’s Cale Pay machines would generate, the City Council tabled the motion on the grounds of merely making sure they weren’t “pricing the town out” as Jim Hall said last week.

“I voted against this last week when this was brought forward, and not because it’s a 25-cent increase or because I don’t think that maybe we can do this. I think it’s too much money to put on the tourists. It’s almost a million dollars. You are asking the tourists, the day trippers and you are asking people that live here that take their families down there to pay more money,” said Hall.

Several members of the council thought that the raise in rates was feasible, but still voted alongside Jim Hall to table the motion.

“I believe the increase is responsible, but I can support a postponement of this, and maybe clarify between a revenue enhancement or a revenue shift, and maybe take some of the burden off the taxpayer,” said Councilman Joe Hall.

Councilman Lloyd Martin supported the motion to postpone the ordinance as well, but warned the council not to drag their feet on the matter.

“I think it’s a fair price for parking down there. We have to raise new revenue and cut costs, and it has to come from somewhere. I understand wanting to hold off for a bit, but I am worried that we will wait too long,” said Martin.

City Solicitor Guy Ayres said that since the pay changes wouldn’t take effect until April 15, the council “has some time to figure out what [you] want to do.”

Council President Joe Mitrecic said that he thinks the “user pays” format that has always been in effect at the Inlet is the bigger issue than where the town is getting the money.

“Raising the rates brings us in line with other resorts, and people don’t have to park there. For day-trippers, it’s a very small fee to pay and sometimes that’s the only fee they pay for coming to town,” said Mitrecic. “We are looking at all ways to offset the drops in revenue this year, and I’m not interested in taking almost a million dollars of money and spending it on a new project. We are trying to maintain what we already have and are struggling with.”

The council will bring the issue back to the work session table in the near future and slight changes could be made before attempting to pass it into ordinance form. Joe Hall hoped that a shorter timeframe might be a good way to offset the price hike for users.

“I want the issue brought back of the effective dates. Why don’t we go Springfest to Sunfest, as that might alleviate the loss of higher rates, with a shorter season in which to pay those higher rates,” he said.