Thursday, November 15, 2012

Public Airs Thoughts on Proposed Metered Parking Rate Hike

By Christina Georgiou

A number of members of the Easton business community, along with Easton City Council members, offered their thoughts on the possibility of city officials voting to raise the rate for metered parking rates and extending meters' hours of operation at the city council meeting Wednesday evening.

Several business owners spoke against the doubling of the rate, though none seemed as upset about the idea of going from the current 50 cents an hour to 75 cents.

Others felt running the meters until 9 p.m. was too much.

Anthony Marraccini, who is a board member of the Greater Easton Development Partnership (GEDP) as well as co-owner of Connexions gallery, said he feels that $1 per hour has the potential to drive away customers.

"I'm deeply concerned abou this proposal. The restaurant sector is doing well...the retail sector is struggling," Marraccini said. "I feel like we're missing the boat a bit with people doing what they're supposed to do...On my block, it's an issue of compliance. If I see half the people feeding the meter, that's a lot."

While some of the money from the proposed increase would go to pay for solar-powered smart meters, Easton officials have said the new revenue generated by increased rates and extended times will support GEDP and its Main Street Initiative and Amabassadors--both programs many cite as being vital to the city's continued growth as a destination and attraction.

Easton Business Association president Curt Ehly said the move would likely be a damper on  these goals.

"We're kind of at a tipping point, and this could tip things the other way," Ehly said. "We're not Bethlehem. It's going in a Bethlehem direction, but we're not Bethlehem."

Ehly also worried increased revenue would go to paying for increased sewer costs more than the GEDP programs.

"I would like to see the sewer rate increases passed on to us (instead)," he said.

Easton School of Rock owner Ray Thierrin said he worried what extending metered parking hours into the evenings would do to his business, which is largely composed of underage students driven to evening lessons by their parents who often wait for their kids rather than drive back home.

"It will hurt if people have to pay an extra $2 just to enjoy our lobby," Thierrin said.

He added that he's willing to help find a way to help them around that.

"The reason we're in Easton is because of the Main Street program," Thierrin said. "Part of the attraction is what's going on. If there's a way the businesses can help with parking, I'm all for it."

While his business is service-oriented and doesn't have evening hours, American Printing owner Fran Pinter expressed concerns at the proposed new hours.

"I think the hours are wrong," Pinter said. "I really think you need to evaluate whether 9 in the evening is the right thing...You're going to piss off more people. I think we could easitly add an hour, but I don't think 9 o'clock makes sense."

He added, "I can guarantee more people will go to park illegally in (private) lots where they don't belong."
Pinter also said he feels the proposal to ticket "lazy double parking" is unenforceable.

And, the residential parking permit system needs some tweaking too, he said, and the city should especially consider adding a probationary period for new residents to allow them time to make the proper license and registration changes to get their stickers.

Mayor Sal Panto said after his daughter had problems getting a residential permit, he agrees with the idea, and also that if the new parking proposals pass, he'd like to expand the Downtown resident permit parking areas as well.

Panto also said the city is looking at the possibility of lowering evening rates at the city parking from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. to 50 cents per hour to encourage more people to park there, especially those who work in the city or, like Thierrin's clients, really don't need street parking.

He added that the city will look at selling $1 disposable cards that can be used in the new smart meters as well, which will be sold to interested city businesses so they can hand them out to customers.

Several council members seem sold on the full rate hike. Speaking in favor of it were councilmen Michael Fleck and Kenneth Brown.

"We have to stop kicking the can down the road," Brown said. "I'm in support of raising the meters, uniformly, across the board."

"We're trying to save Main street and Ambassadors, and somebody has to pay for it," Fleck said.

Others, including El Warner, Roger Ruggles and Jeff Warren seem lukewarm to the full scope of the idea.

Warren has previously said he feels doubling the rate may be too much of a shock to the community.

"With the proposal at 75 cents, it seemed like those programs were secure," Warren said.

While Fleck said out that technically the city ordinance that allows for the rates to be raised is already on the books, passed in a former city budget in 2005, Warner said she thinks it's too much, and that the measure was slipped through.

"I'm not even sure council meant to pass that ordinance. It was an accident," she said. "They just passed the budget."

Councilwoman Sandra Vulcano has said little during the discussions, but offered that she'd like to see a trolley service added.

"Personally, I'd like to see a trolley at the parking garage that would take you to wherever," she said.

Panto said he's still open-minded about the matter, despite having raised the issue of a further hike. But there may not be as much of a choice as before, he warned.

"Our budget is out of balance now. Our sewer authority bill is going up $161,000. It's just like the commuter tax. If we didn't enact the commuter tax, we'd be $3.1 million short," he said. "I will cut the budget before I raise taxes."

The parking rate hike proposal is planned to be discussed again at the city's next budget proposal hearing on Tuesday, Nov. 27 at 6 p.m. in city council chambers in City Hall.

The budget is set to be introduced on Wednesday, Nov. 28, and a final draft will likely be passed on Wednesday, Dec. 13 to comply with the city's Home Rule requirement that a balanced budget be passed by Dec. 15.

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