OCEAN CITY — Elected officials this week approved the parking task force’s recommendations to hike some rates during the peak season while offering concessions in the shoulder months, though they are open to further discussions in the future about expanded paid parking.
Everything was on the table when the task force appointed by the Mayor and Council last year began exploring options to gain more revenue and improve efficiency for the resort’s existing parking system. One stated objective was tweaking the hourly parking rate structure in areas were paid parking already existed including the Inlet lot, on-street in the downtown areas and in the various municipal lots.
The “thornier” objective, as City Engineer Terry McGean referred to it, was exploring the possibility of expanding on-street paid parking. As it stands now, paid parking is mostly confined to the Inlet lot, the municipal lots in the downtown area and on the streets south of 10th Street. After multiple meetings last spring before reconvening this fall, the task force had before it options that could have expanded on-street paid parking in the ocean block from 11th to 33rd streets or perhaps even from 34th Street to the Delaware line.
However, while the task force recommended tweaking the existing pay structure in areas where paid parking already exists, it voted not to explore more paid on-street parking at this time. On Tuesday, the Mayor and Council approved nearly all task force recommendations, although the majority of the elected officials left the door open for future renewed discussions on expanding paid on-street parking.
By way of background, paid parking is currently in effect from April 1 through Oct. 31. The current flat rate is $2 per hour in the municipal lots and on the street and $3 per hour at the Inlet lot. Option C, ultimately recommended by the task force and approved by the Mayor and Council on Tuesday, will nudge those hourly rates slightly higher, but would give something back to the consumer through free parking at the Inlet lot, the municipal lots and on the street where paid parking already exists below 10th Street.
In simplest terms, the goal of the task force’s undertaking is to explore ways to increase revenue from parking to help offset growing budget demands and shift some of the responsibility for maintaining the beach and Boardwalk to the day-trippers, all while keeping a paid parking fee schedule fair and palatable to all consumers.
Under the approved plan, parking at the Inlet lot would be free during the week from Monday to Thursday in April and May and again in October. The hourly rate at the Inlet lot on weekends in those shoulder months would be $3, while the hourly rate would go to $3.50 per hour in June, July, August and September.
At the municipal lots and existing on-street paid parking areas, the same formula would be applied. In those areas, parking would be free during the week in the shoulder seasons and $2 per hour on the weekends. The hourly rate would then jump to $3 per hour in June, July, August and September. The recommendations would result in an estimated $980,000 in new net parking revenue.
Councilman Mark Paddack thanked McGean and the task force for its diligence in reaching the recommendations, but said the resulting 141-page report with several options for each facet of the city’s paid parking system needed more review. He made a motion to table the discussion and bring it back to a future work session for further review. That motion died for lack of a second.
Councilman Matt James then made a motion to accept the task force recommendations, a motion seconded by Councilman Tony DeLuca. Before any vote was taken, however, McGean pointed out the task force, albeit a rather small sampling of its membership, had voted not to consider expanding paid parking to areas where it does not already exist. McGean said that decision would ultimately fall on the Mayor and Council.
“The task force did not recommend expanding parking beyond where it already exists,” he said. “There are no more task force meetings slated and the committee is basically done. Everything else is up to the Mayor and Council.”
Council Secretary Mary Knight, who served on the task force, pointed out a slim majority of the members voted not to recommend any consideration of expanded paid parking at this time. When the question was called at the last task force meeting, the vote was 4-2 with one abstention not to recommend expanding paid parking.
“Just for the record, there wasn’t always a quorum,” she said. “To be honest, I was often on the losing side.”
Councilman Dennis Dare, who also served on the task force, agreed the 4-2 vote not to expand paid parking was not exactly a mandate. For the record, Dare was the one abstention, not because he favored expanding paid parking, but rather because he did not want to shut the door on it entirely.
“There were 14 voting members on the task force including three from the council,” he said. “Four people voted not to expand paid parking anywhere. I don’t think that’s conclusive.”
Councilman Tony DeLuca appeared to be taken aback when he learned the task force recommendations presented on Tuesday were final and the committee was not scheduled to convene any more.
“I think this shouldn’t be the end of it,” he said. “I think we need to consider expanding paid parking in 2020 and 2021. Maybe the task force reconvenes, or maybe we do it as the Mayor and Council. I just don’t think the task force should be one and done.”
Dare said the three pillars of resort’s transportation system were parking, mass transit and the roadways and that were each intricately linked. He praised the task force recommendations, particularly the section about tweaking the existing rate structure, but said the door should not be slammed shut on expanding paid parking in the future.
“I think the task force accomplished quite a bit and it was a worthwhile exercise,” he said. “As far as the part about not expanding paid parking, maybe it’s not the right idea right now, but it could be in the future. I’m not sure we should dismiss it.”
Dare said the point of the exercise all along was to explore ways for the day-trippers, or those who use the beach and Boardwalk perhaps the most, to share in the growing cost of their upkeep and maintenance.
“The beach and Boardwalk cost $4.8 million to protect and maintain annually,” he said. “That’s six cents on the property tax rate. Maybe that segment of the population that uses those amenities the most should step up and pay their share. As it stands now, that’s a cost borne by the property tax and the room tax.”
The motion to approve the task force recommendations was still on the floor, but before any vote could be taken, Knight questioned the Park-and-Ride component. As part of the effort to give something back to the consumers while hiking the parking rates slightly, the task force recommended eliminating the $3 shuttle rate from the Park-and-Ride into Ocean City, with the exception of the major special events.
That measure would cost the city an estimated $80,000 in revenue from the shuttle fees, reducing the overall estimated net revenue from the task force recommendations to $900,000.
“I’d like to vote on the motion while taking the section about the Park-and-Ride out,” she said. “I don’t feel there is a real incentive to make the Park-and-Ride shuttle free. I’d like to talk about that part some more.”
After considerable debate, the council voted unanimously to take out the section regarding the Park-and-Ride shuttle for future consideration and approve the rest of the task force recommendations. However, the elected officials did want future discussions on expanding paid parking.