OCEAN CITY- With the budget heading to first reading in a couple of weeks, additional paid parking areas in city-owned lots, and changes in parking rates at the Inlet Lot are approved this week to help increase revenues.
At the budget meeting on Thursday, April 10, the Mayor and Council voted to re-establish paid parking at the Public Safety Building and City Hall lot locations.
On Monday evening, an ordinance was presented to the council to authorize the additional paid parking. The council voted 6-0 to approve the ordinance in first reading with Council President Lloyd Martin absent. The additional areas of paid parking are an estimated revenue increase of about $22,500.
Confusion was raised by resident Ellie Diegelmann who recalled Mayor Rick Meehan stating additional paid parking would not be implemented in Ocean City again following a successful petition effort last summer.
“Paid parking amounts to parking meters. After the petition drive against parking meters, didn’t the mayor promise parking meters were to never become an issue again,” Diegelmann said. “This is at least the second time that promise has been broken.”
Council Secretary Mary Knight clarified the mayor referred to street parking.
“There is no confusion here,” City Manager David Recor said. “These are publically-owned lots. The mayor indicated we would not revisit the subject of parking meters on street parking.”
At the conclusion of last year’s budget session, the Mayor and City Council voted to approve Ordinance 2013-10 that enacted new areas of paid parking to bring in additional revenue and help close a budget gap.
After several studies, the selected locations included a chunk of the east side of the Public Safety Parking Lot between 65th and 66th streets, City Hall Parking Lot, on the west side of Philadelphia Avenue between North Division St. and South First St., 49th Street ocean block, 131st Street from Coastal Hwy. to Sinepuxent Ave., and 146th Street ocean block.
For months, the ordinance met opposition from Ocean Place Condominium owners on 146th Street as well as from Nolen Graves, the owner of the Crab Bag on 131st Street. Those in opposition came together in an organized group of Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice (OCTSJ), along with former Councilman Vince Gisriel, and began petition efforts to place a referendum on a ballet on the new areas of paid parking.
In August, petition efforts were announced successful. The Clerk’s Office received a 1,770-signature petition for referendum of Ordinance 2013-10. The Board of Elections found 86 signatures of non-registered voters, five rejected signatures and 32 duplicate signatures. There were 1,648 valid signatures, and the council voted to repeal the ordinance.
The charter of the Town of Ocean City requires a petition acquire 40 percent, or 1,226 signatures, of the number of voters in the most recent general election for the petition to be valid.
“As long as I am the mayor of Ocean City, I am going to object to any more parking meters on city streets,” said Meehan. “Unless there are six votes to override a mayoral veto, I don’t think you are going to see parking meters on the streets. I hope we continue to look at our city lots, and other ways, not just parking meters to reduce costs and to increase revenues where they are palatable and where they are necessary.”
At the budget meeting on April 10, the Mayor and City Council also voted to establish Inlet Lot parking rate changes to include, increase hourly rate from $2.50 to $3.00 on Fridays beginning Friday of Memorial Day weekend and ending on the Friday before Labor Day, and 4th of July all-day parking rate of $50 now applies before 3 p.m. and decreases to a $30 all-day fee from 3 p.m. on. The estimates revenue increase for the changes on Friday’s is about $38,400 and from 4th of July is $9,000.
Without discussion the Mayor and City Council voted 6-0 to approve the resolution with Martin absent.
Last year was a first for the Inlet Lot $50 flat-fee on 4th of July, which thousands of visitors chose to take advantage of. The fee was good for one entry, and allowed visitors to come as early as 5 a.m. and stay as late as midnight, without being charged an hourly parking rate.
At 5:30 a.m. on Thursday, July 4, the line to enter the Inlet parking lot wrapped around Baltimore Ave. and near Philadelphia Ave. The lot was filled to capacity with 1,200 vehicles and closed to incoming motorists by 11:15 a.m.
By charging the flat-rate at the Inlet Parking Lot upon entering, the city believed it would help decrease the traffic back-up when motorists went to leave the lot without having to wait in line to pay an hourly rate when exiting.
At 11:30 p.m., more than 90 minutes after the fireworks had ended, there were still major traffic backups on Baltimore Ave. as the lot emptied after the fireworks. Philadelphia Ave. was also backed up.
Following 4th of July, Meehan commented city officials were surprised there were at least 200 to 300 vehicles that had left the parking lot by the time the fireworks went off at 9:30 p.m. While the town learned the method to charge motorists as they enter the lot did in fact relieve traffic upon exiting, they also learned the lot would benefit from having staff keep a close eye on the amount of parking spaces that become available throughout the day with the possibility to re-open the lot at a specified time and charge a lower price upon entry.