Also how best to say it —- tax payers dollars, other than SID tax payers– are not used for the lots and that will not change unless the SID tax rate is lowered
SOMERVILLE – Borough Council members delayed a vote that would increase parking fees and will revisit the controversial proposal after weighing suggestions and concerns voiced at the Sept. 7 meeting.
The discussion will continue at the Sept. 21 meeting beginning at 7 p.m. at borough Police headquarters, 24 South Bridge St.
The Borough Council did approve on first reading an ordinance that will create a parking utility to oversee management of parking; it will need to be approved after a public hearing, expected at the Sept. 21 meeting.
Mayor Brian Gallagher assured the crowd of 50 merchants, property owners and second floor residents that the council will continue to take its time and consider the concerns raised during the public hearing.
The council has already offered to make a few changes – the meters will start charging at 9 a.m., one hour later than originally proposed; additionally residents will be able to use Lot #7 where permit parking will be free. Both will be discussed at the Sept. 21 meeting
The Somerville Business & Professional Association continues its opposition to the plan, which would increase all meter parking on Main Street from 50 cents to $1 per hour and an increase to 75 cents from 25 cents for parking lots behind Main Street businesses. Current rates have been in effect since 1984, according to Colin Driver, the borough’s director of economic development and a member of a parking study group appointed by Gallagher that recommended the increased fees in June.
The proposal also extends metered parking time Monday-Friday by three hours through 8 p.m. and adds metered parking for the first time on Saturday from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.
Fines would also be increased from $23 to $29 for overtime parking.
Left intact would be the penny meters on Division Street by the US Post Office, where one cent pays for 12 minutes of parking.
Instead of raising fees, the SBPA suggests the council consider using revenue raised by taxes paid by Somerville property owners located within the Special Improvement District created in 1998. The SID tax revenue is intended for capital improvements, according to Lorraine Sarra, treasurer of the SBPA.
The SBPA also questions why SID money is being used for marketing initiatives and live entertainment events in the downtown district.
“We should be asking ‘why is all the money being used for entertainment’ when the SID was created for capital improvements,” she said. “This is not as important in view of the metering problem.”
Jeff Silverman, owner of Lloyd’s on West Main Street, scolded the council for wanting to increase parking fees.
“In retail, what worked years ago is not working today because of the Internet,” he said. “I have to think like a consumer. We have to thank them, not stab them in the back with a $29 parking ticket,” he said. “These are fragile times, not the time to impose an increase. Let’s not penalize our customers.”
Alison O’Neal, owner of Beneath It All on Division Street, said the increase posed a triple threat: higher rates, an extension to 8 p.m., and the addition of metered parking on Saturdays, none of which favors out-of-town visitors or local residents and merchants.
Borough resident Jane Williams suggested that visitors to Somerville will have “meter on their minds,” and that will change their shopping habits, rushing out of stores and not spending the time on the streets window shopping.
Other suggestions offered to the council during the Sept. 8 meeting was designated parking for residents and discounted parking permits for residents.
Resident Jim Crane pointed to surrounding towns where parking is free – Hillsborough, Bridgewater and Branchburg.
“This is going to cost somebody,” he said.
The increased fees will benefit the borough, according to the committee’s report. Some of the highlights:
- The increase in fees and hours will help to remove the financial burden for parking away from borough taxpayers and place it on the user of the parking system;
- The system will become self-supporting;
- Creation of a utility to manage the day-to-day management of the parking system will create a dedicated stream of income to the utility to maintain the parking system; at the end of each year any surplus funds will be transferred to the Borough to help support other infrastructure projects.
Gallagher appointed the task force in January to study management of the borough’s parking, which numbers 1,000 spaces. Overall, there are 2,500 parking spaces in the borough, including county parking garages on High Street and Veterans Memorial Drive East, a parking deck near the post office and nearly 400 spaces at the ShopRite off Veterans Memorial Drive West.
THE SBPA argues the increases will discourage shoppers and inconvenience the growing crowds that frequent the Main Street restaurants weeknights and weekends.
“Who’s going to come in to town to shop and feed the meter until 8 at night, or on Saturdays, getting up from your dinner to go outside and put in some more quarters. It’s going to create problems, it’s not logical,” said Sarra.
The task force projects a revenue increase of nearly 150 percent – a little more than $360,000 – and an increase in revenue from overtime fines totaling $125,000.
The expense of hiring additional enforcement officers will be offset by the increased revenues, according to Driver.
The additional revenues will also be dedicated to repairs and maintenance of the off street parking lots, Driver said.
“Two years ago we upgraded the lots and already, the blacktop is breaking up. We will have to mill and top it off,” Driver said. “Under the current system, property owners will pay for that through their property tax. Once these new initiatives are put into play, it will be a moot point.”
Driver said the increase in fees is long overdue.
“We looked at surrounding towns of similar size and character and what do they do and what we found was the Somerville had the second lowest price system in the entire state,” he added.
“We concluded that we should make people pay for the time they’re parking; not charging for that space when it is being used the most – after 5 and on Saturdays does not make sense,” Driver said. “That is not merchants parking or residents parking, it is people coming downtown to shop or dine; why shouldn’t those people who are causing wear and tear on our system help support it.
“When we looked at that extend time to 8 o’clock and we included Saturdays, we discovered the potential revenue was 1.5 times greater than what is now – at a minimum,” Driver said.