Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Administrators Present Parking Revenue Estimates at Budget Discussion

By Christina Georgiou

Easton City Council members were presented with parking revenue estimates for 2013 during budget discussions at their workshop meeting Tuesday evening.

The numbers were requested after the initial proposed budget presentation by Mayor Sal Panto earlier this month.

Purchasing solar-powered smart meters that take credit and debit
card payments are part of the city administration's
2013 budget proposal.
A rate increase from the current 50 cents to 75 cents an hour at curbside meters will likely net the city an additional $150,000, while if the rate were raised to $1 per hour, the city would raise $250,000 more than in 2012, estimated city Finance Director Chris Heagele.

Running metered curbside parking times from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., instead of the current 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., would likely net the city an additional $65,000. Adding metered parking on Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. would likely raise $50,000 more in revenue, Heagele said.

"All these numbers are conservative, not liberal (estimates)," Panto added.

All told, the changes and potential rate hike could net the city between $265,000 and $365,000 more parking revenue next year, discounting expenditures associated with the changes.

On the expenditure side of the potential plan, adding multi-space meter boxes to city parking lots would likely cost $40,000, replacing and changing various parking signs, including signage to change the time limit from two to three hours in most areas, would run about $10,000, and the proposed smart meters that would take credit card payments would be about $100,000, members of the administration estimated.

Additionally, giving parking violators a $5 break on their fines if they pay them within one business day would eat about $25,000 in city revenue, the city administrators said.

City Administrator Glenn Steckman said the costs associated with purchasing new smart meters and the parking lot pay systems wouldn't be borne in one year, but stretched out over several years.

When it comes to the multi-space pay stations too, the city needs to test the idea out and see how it goes before a final decision is made, he added.

"We're not just going out and putting in this equipment," Steckman said. "We want to test first and see how it's going to be used."

He said officials expect the pay stations are likely to be more useful and heavily trafficked at places where city visitors park often, such as at the South Third Street parking lot, more than at one where there is a higher proportion of residents' permit parking, such as at the city-owned parking lot on Church Street.

The cost of signs, Steckman said, is somewhat unavoidable whether the city decides to change parking time limits or not.

"The signage, some of that's already in the budget," he said. "We're always replacing signs."

The city is also planning on spending a bit more on parking enforcement personnel in 2013, regardless of whether the rates are raised.

Hiring a full-time parking enforcement officer supervisor is necessary for higher efficiency and good parking enforcement management, Steckman said.

The move would eliminate one part-time position and create a full-time position with benefits, costing the city about $20,000 more.

"It's what we think is a good use, which, frankly, would result in more tickets being issued," Steckman said.

Currently, the city tickets only about 8-9 percent of those parked after meters expired, officials said.

"Ninety-one to 92 percent of expired meters are still going unticketed," confirmed Easton Police Chief Carl Scalzo.

Still, that is two to three times the estimated percentage of those ticketed earlier this year, when the "capture" rate was in the 2 to 5 percent range.

Current digital meters provide the numbers, Scalzo said, noting that they send a signal to enforcement of their status when cars are parked but the meter has expired.

Parking violation fines account for the greatest amount of traffic-related revenue for the city. By comparison, moving violations are likely to put less than $100,000 into city coffers.

"My guess is that it will be at $80,000 to $100,000 for this year," Heagele said. "I don't think we'll go past six figures this year."

"I think it comes down to a best guess situation when it comes to what's being written," Scalzo added.

The proposed 2013 city budget doesn't include any tax hikes, but some fees will be raised or added if budget passes as presented.

While the bulk of those are likely to be mostly in planning and codes fees and are planned to be discussed at the next budget discussion, officials did mention they are leaning towards adding a billing fee to trash and sewer costs.

"We are recommending a $2 a month bill fee--$1 for trash, $1 for sewer--to help with mailing costs," Heagele said, adding the charge would be waived for those recorded with the city as being senior citizens.

Additionally, in 2013, the city expects to spend less on highway cleanup.

"That's directly related to a mild winter last year. Our barns are full (of road salt)," Heagele said.

But the Crayola Experience expansion will likely cost the city a bit more than just the last $100,000 installment of a total $300,000 payment to McDonalds to entice them to move out of their Northampton Street location this past September.

The Crayola store is planning on vacating the space in the Alpha Building it currently rents from the city to reopen in the same space as the children's interactive museum.

"We're assuming that it will remain vacant through the end of the year," Heagele said. "We're taking a conservative approach (when it comes to potential revenue."

Panto said the Crayola Experience is planning on closing for three months at the beginning of 2013, from January through March, to enable its planned expansion.

Another 2013 city budget disscussion, to review and discuss city expenditures, along with a detailed presentation of possible rate hikes for city planning and code enforcement, is set for Tuesday, Oct. 30, at 6 p.m.

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