Thursday, November 29, 2012

2013 City Budget Introduced, Includes Parking Meter Rate Hike

By Christina Georgiou

If Easton's 2013 proposed budget is passed as introduced Wednesday evening, drivers visiting the city will be paying twice the amount they are now to park curbside.

After several discussions on the matter, it seems clear that officials have determined to move ahead with the plan to raise metered parking rates in the Downtown district of the city to $1 per hour from the current 50 cents.

Meters will also be in operation from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and additionally from noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays, if council members approve the budget without changes, which seems likely. The extended hours are slightly less than what was originally proposed.

Other small changes were made in the final draft of the $31.2M budget proposal too, mostly to cover an approximately $161,000 gap left by increases in city sewer costs, which became apparent a few weeks ago.

But the job of shifting expenses was made easier by an increase in anticipated revenue from impact fees produced by 31 more table games at Bethlehem's Sands Casino.

"We're thankful we're at the table for the Sands table games," said Mayor Sal Panto at the council's Tuesday workshop meeting. "We weren't at the table for the slots, so we're only getting half of what we could have though."

With the additional anticipated revenue, the City of Easton expects to receive about $760,000 from the casino in 2013.

Also included in the budget are contributions to the city's Weed and Seed program ($55,500), the Miracle League baseball field in Palmer Township for handicapped children ($2,500), and to the Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society-owned Bachmann Publick House ($10,000).

The contribution to the Miracle League field will give handicapped city children access to the field, city officials said.

"We don't do anything for menatally and physically handicapped children, and this gives us the opportunity to contribute to that," Panto said.

"It does provide a level of recreation that really does need a regional approach," said City Administrator Glenn Steckman.

The money going to the Bachmann tavern will be put towards repairing the pre-Revolutionary War era building a new roof, officials said, noting that Northampton County and the NCGHS will also contribute $10,000 each to the project.

Other than the parking changes, no one commented on the budget items.

However, the price hike in parking meters, along with the addition of Sunday hours of operation, met with more public opposition.

Marie Steltz, owner of Marie's Dance on Northampton Street, said the rate hike and extended hours has her concerned.

"Raising it to $1 may drive some business away," she said, noting that her clients mostly come in the evenings and then often go to a restaurant after classes. "They may decide to drive away (instead)."

City officials said the price is necessary and not out of line for the area, noting the increased price will be the same as the City of Bethlehem charges.

"I used to go to Downtown Bethlehem," Steltz said. "I don't any more."

Anthony Burks, a current giftshop owner in Bethlehem who is in the process of moving his business to South Second Street in Easton, said one of the reasons for his move is because Easton had a better parking situation.

"Parking meters are a huge hurt to businesses like mine," Burks said. "Do you know Bethlehem is circulating a petition to get all that changed? The meters are hurting business. From my's hurting more than it's helping. Maybe you'll consider letting that one free day stay."

"The last thing we want to do is hurt business in the city," Panto said, noting that parking revenue is set to go to both the Main Street and Ambassadors programs, which are designed to support businesses. "The concern I have is, the money has to come from someplace...I would love to take out meters, but your customers would have trouble parking."

The city budget and the measures that financially support it are set for a vote on Wednesday, Dec. 13, at the council's next regular meeting.

The Easton Home Rule Charter requires that a balanced budget be passed for the coming year by Dec. 15.

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