Faced with declining revenues amid growing expenses, as is the case with all governments currently, the Ocean City Mayor and Council is considering adding more paid parking throughout the island.
This is a worthwhile discussion to be having this time of year, and the issue has proven to be quite divisive over the years.
The major fact to consider here is Ocean City must find new revenue to offset the $6 million loss in property taxes anticipated over the next budget year as a result of declining property values.
Further complicating the matter, Ocean City has put off most of its major infrastructure work (the Boardwalk reconstruction being an obvious exception) for several years as a way to keep a hold on its finances. City staff members have cautioned the council the time has come to make some improvements in the town’s streets and to discuss storm water management issues. At a minimum, the council is being advised to at least identify funding sources.
The funds for this work must come from somewhere, and expanding the amount of paid parking is one of the options being weighed.
Although no decision was made this week on adding paid spots in other areas, the council did agree in a 4-2 vote to increase parking rates at existing paid parking areas from $1 per hour (or 25 cents per 15 minutes) to $1.50 per hour (or 50 cents per 20 minutes). That hike is expected to generate about $500,000 in new money.
According to figures released this week, the city could make another $1.7 million if it added paid parking to all ocean block streets from 27th Street to the Delaware line. That’s a total of about 3,300 spaces that are currently free but would become paid under the proposal. There are other propositions as well being considered, but this is the major revenue generator of those presented.
This is a matter of perception, and the council has to consider this when mulling this decision around budget time. It can’t simply be about the money.
Clearly, visitors and local residents will take umbrage when they have to pay to park on the street where they previously were not required to do so. The obvious reaction for anyone will be the implication of being gouged by the city.
For those folks who previously did not have to pay to spend six hours on the beach, it would now cost them $9, if the council goes with the $1.50 an hour rate that was passed this week.
The line between perception and reality is often blurred and clearly in this case the town needs to be aware of what a major paid parking expansion could result in. It could go a long way toward haltering the town’s tourism momentum.
Make no mistake tough decisions must be made to address the budget shortfall, but early reactions indicate public sentiment is against more paid parking. The opponents’ claims are on point, but they must realize the money will have to come from somewhere soon.