OCEAN CITY — After a summer-long hiatus, Ocean City’s parking task force is set to resume next week with some weighty issues on the table.
The parking task force, appointed last year by Mayor Rick Meehan at the request of the city council, met four times last spring to begin exploring several options to increase revenue and make the resort’s public parking program more efficient and equitable. During the summer, City Engineer Terry McGean and his staff and Dan Kupferman of Walker Consultants continued to collect and analyze data from the town’s comprehensive public parking system from one end of the resort to the other.
With the summer season now in the books, the task force is set to resume its work next week with the first of three planned meetings on Thursday, Oct. 3. When the task force broke for the summer season, there were essentially four options on the table including increasing the rates in areas where paid parking already exists, expanding paid parking in the ocean block from 11th Street to 33rd Street or expanding paid parking in the ocean block from 34th Street to the Delaware line.
McGean said next Thursday’s first task force meeting of the fall would focus on increasing rates in areas where paid parking already exists. Subsequent meetings not yet scheduled would explore the options of expanding paid on-street parking from 11th to 33rd Streets and possibly even 34th Street to the Delaware line.
Each of the latter options would likely include a residential permit program. Also included in previous discussions was having paid parking at just a portion of the parking spaces in the ocean block, the concept being there should be a premium for parking in those most convenient spots closest to the beach.
In prior meetings, there has been considerable debate about giving something back to offset the proposed increases, including making the shuttle from the Park-and-Ride in West Ocean City free and reducing or eliminating paid parking in the shoulder months of April and October.
By way of background, there is currently paid parking at the Inlet lot, certain municipal lots and on the street in the downtown area up to 10th Street. The task force was formed to begin exploring ways to equitably expand paid parking to other areas in the interest of fairness, and perhaps more importantly, increase revenue.
From the beginning, task force members asserted the point of the exercise was not to immediately make the jump to expanding paid parking, but it became clear early on revenue was the driving force. Finding ways to make up an estimated $1.7 million shortfall in parking revenue has now been clearly established as the stated goal as the task force resumes its work. Essentially, increasing parking revenue is an opportunity to have day-trippers pay their fair share of the cost for beach cleaning, maintaining the Boardwalk and other amenities that make Ocean City a desirable destination.
In simplest terms, the task force’s conventional thinking is day-trippers are the third leg of a three-legged stool. Property owners support the services through property tax and those visitors who stay in hotels or rent condos pay their share through the room tax. Expanding paid parking or at least increasing the hourly rates in the areas where paid parking already exists is a way to help ensure day-trippers are doing their part. The two groups that make up the other legs of the revenue stool would be affected to some degree by an increase in paid parking, but the challenge is to insulate them somehow from any recommended changes.