OCEAN CITY — A task force will begin examining an expansion of metered on-street parking in some areas of the resort amid an acknowledgement some mistakes were made the last time the concept was considered five years ago and a veiled threat of another petition drive.
Last week, with an eye on tapping potential unrealized revenue in the face of anticipated municipal budget difficulties in the future, Ocean City officials agreed to form a task force to begin exploring an expansion of paid on-street parking in certain areas of the resort. During recent budget deliberations, the Mayor and Council directed staff to do an analysis of potentially expanding paid, metered parking in the ocean block from 11th to 33rd streets.
City Engineer Terry McGean last week presented his analysis of the potential revenue and the estimated cost and expanding metered parking in the roughly 22-block section of the upper downtown area. According to the estimates, expanding metered parking in the ocean block from 11th to 33rd street would generate around $622,000.
After the expense of installing new parking meter kiosks in those areas was subtracted, the estimated total revenue from expanding paid parking in that area comes in at around $578,000. Armed with those revenue estimates, the council voted unanimously last week to form a task force to begin exploring the potential further and to take a broad-brush view of paid parking throughout the resort in general.
By way of a recent history lesson, the concept of expanding paid parking in certain areas of the resort is certainly not a new one. In 2012-2013, the Mayor and Council passed ordinances adding parking meters in some areas of town. However, after a successful petition drive to bring the issue to referendum, the town’s elected officials ultimately backed down from the proposed paid parking expansion and the ordinances never saw the light of day.
Five years later, the current Mayor and Council are exploring the possibility of expanding paid parking again and are planning to form a task force to take a comprehensive look at the issue. Already, there are hints of a renewed petition drive should the task force return with a favorable recommendation. Former Councilman Vince Gisriel on Monday reminded the Mayor and Council of the successful petition drive in 2013 that ultimately doomed the expansion of paid on-street parking.
“In 2013, I was involved in a really successful petition drive and it squashed it,” he said. “I’ve often said about that drive I have never seen the residents, tenants, absentee owners and the business community all come together so strongly for a common cause.”
While only the section of ocean block from 11th street to 33rd street is currently on the table, Gisriel voiced concern it could be expanded in the future. He said there were already grumblings in the community about the formation of the task force and essentially promised another petition drive would be forthcoming.
“The concern is once it gets established, it will be the beginning of more to come,” he said. “I look at the issue of 11th Street to 33rd Street as a beginning, an encroachment so to speak. I can assure you may gage is there is still strong sentiment against it in the community and there will be another petition because they don’t want it to go forward.”
Gisriel also reminded Mayor Rick Meehan of a promise he made the last time an expansion of paid parking was considered.
“Your honor, you made a commitment back in 2013 that as long as you were mayor you would never sign an ordinance that called for paid on-street parking,” he said. “As I recall, you didn’t even sign the ordinance, which indicates to me you had ambivalence because you were probably hearing some of the same concerns.”
Gisriel asked the elected officials to back away from the task force idea before it went any further.
“I would ask the council to reconsider forming such a task force,” he said. “I’m confident in telling you this community will rally again. If you don’t believe me, do a survey of the community and I think you’ll find the sentiment is still strong five years later.”
Councilman Wayne Hartman said he could support an expansion of paid parking in some areas if a residential pass was included in the package. Hartman reminded Gisriel just a few minutes earlier the former councilman was asking for a reduction in the property tax rate and was now asking the town not to look into potential revenue sources.
“I would support a residential pass of some sort, even with a small fee associated with it,” he said. “We can’t have our cake and eat it too. Just a few minutes ago you were talking about lowering the tax rate and now we’re talking about not exploring a revenue source in the same meeting.”
Councilman Matt James also supported the idea of a residential pass in areas where paid parking might be expanded. He also said there was no harm in having the task force take a comprehensive look at it and simply forming a task force did not imply the elected officials were in favor of it.
“I’d like to see a resident pass as well,” he said. “If it comes back from the task force that we shouldn’t do it, then so be it. I would like to see what the task force has to say and what recommendations they could make with regard to the parking meters.”
Councilman Dennis Dare said the last time Ocean City considered expanding paid parking came when the town was exploring all budget cuts and possible revenue sources. He acknowledged the previous effort was not well thought-out.
“It was a concept brought up in 2012,” he said. “We were moving forward at the time with what we called the low-hanging fruit and we didn’t look at it comprehensively. I think we need to give a task force the time to look at this comprehensively and maybe there is a win-win as opposed to what transpired in the past. If there isn’t, then we’ll move on to something else but hopefully it’s not reducing our public safety services or other services like public works and recreation and special events. There are so many things we need and we need to look at everything.”
Council Secretary Mary Knight also acknowledged the proposed expansion of paid parking five years ago might have been a rush to judgement at the time.
“The mistake I made in 2013 is I didn’t think it through,” she said. “I didn’t think about a parking permit in the area you live in, not a city-wide one. I didn’t think about if we put paid ocean block parking it would drive people into the neighborhoods. There were a lot of things we did not think about.”
However, she pointed out paid parking in other tourism-driven areas had found a successful balance between increasing revenue and accommodating the locals.
“Since then, I’ve looked at Rehoboth, I’ve looked at Fenwick, I’ve looked at Annapolis,” she said. “I’ve looked at other areas where they’ve implemented paid parking in choice areas and they thought it through a little better than we did in 2013. They thought about the residents and the property owners that it would effect.”
Knight reiterated forming the task force to simply explore the issue did not mean the town was committed to moving forward with the proposal.
“I’m hoping with this task force, and we have new management and a new city manager and new councilmembers, that we can come up with some solutions,” she said. “I think we would be irresponsible not to look at it again. If it comes back with not a good recommendation, at least we have done our due diligence and we’ve studied it.”
Knight urged the community to at least allow the task force to examine the issue again.
“When we look at going to 32nd Street, that’s about $600,000, and that’s with giving residential passes in those areas,” she said. “I would hope people would be respectful to the idea and at least let us look at it. In 2013, we did not do it well and I think a lot of us learned from our mistakes.”