Wednesday, November 13, 2013

City EIT Increase Likely, But Parking Rate Hike Off the Table for 2014

By Christina Georgiou
Easton city council members rejected raising municipal
parking deck rates from $2 to $3 per hour during the peak
summer season in 2014 during a budget hearing
Tuesday evening. As a result, both curbside metered parking
and municipal garage fees are expected to remain the
same next year.
Easton's Earned Income Tax seems likely to be raised by two-tenths of a percent, to a total of 1.95 percent, for residents in 2014, but city council members roundly rejected the idea of raising parking fees in the municipal parking garage to $3 per hour during summer months at a budget hearing on Tuesday evening.

Those who work but do not live in Easton will continue to pay 1.75 percent as implemented by the council at the beginning of this year, city officials said.

The increase in city parking deck fees would have brought an estimated extra $160,000 to Easton's coffers next year, but council members said the hike isn't justifiable and would hit residents as well as visitors to the city's attractions.

City administrator Glenn Steckman said the increase is necessary to control traffic in the parking deck during peak times. The deck was recently been filled to capacity during the Easton Garlic Fest and last weekend during Bacon Fest II. As a result, it was shut down until spaces opened

Steckman also suggested some of the extra revenue from the increased rate might go towards paying for the construction of more parking in the future.

"I do understand the supply and demand issue...but I do have an issue with rates going up and down," said Councilman Jeff Warren. "I really believe there needs to be some consistency."

Councilwoman El Warner, who has opposed parking rate hikes in the past, said, "I'm actually not in favor of doing this at all."

Mayor Sal Panto, attending the meeting via phone due to his attendance at a national mayor's conference in Seattle, WA this week, said it would be good to have the revenue, but not at the expense of city residents.

"I think it's great to get $3 per hour from visitors and tourists from out of town, but we need to figure out a way that residents (can pay less)," he said. "I think we need to make it fair for our residents."

He added that he agreed Easton will need more parking in the future, but said, "I don't think the people going Downtown (in the summer) on a Thursday night should pay for a garage we might build next year."

Warren agreed, saying, "We don't want to--I don't want to say 'gouge'--but we don't want to stick it to them."

Easton Councilwoman Sandra Vulcano suggested that trolley service be offered during large city events to ferry visitors from lots and parking spaces further from the center of the city to solve overflow issues. The cost of the service might be borne by charging riders $1 each, and the shuttle could travel in a loop to make it convenient for all, she added.

After council members made it clear they wouldn't vote in favor of the parking garage seasonal rate increase, Steckman said adjustments would have to be made to make up for the $25,000.

"I can count as well as anyone," he said, referring to the majority of council that voiced objections. "We'll come back with a revised budget for you tomorrow."

Steckman said the necessary cuts might come from delaying the hiring of a new building codes enforcement officer to handle landlord licensing and rental inspections from April to June and axing the purchase of a paving melting pot for the public works department.

City administrators also recommended an increase in the city's residential rental license of $5 per year from $55 to $60, which would bring in an estimated extra $25,000 per year, and raising the real estate transfer tax from $125 to $140.

City finance director Chris Heagele, along with Steckman, recommended council vote to increase the city EIT by 0.2 percent at its regular meeting tonight, which is the amount the budget proposal is based on. Without it, the city faces a shortfall in excess of $1 million and severe cuts to services and city programs would be necessary, they warned.

"All the assumptions in here assume a 0.20 (percent) EIT and the rental license fee increase. Roughly every tenth of a percent is $400,000," Heagle said. "If we don't enact that ordinance, we would either need to raise revenue substantially or take an axe to the budget."

Panto reiterated that he recommends raising the EIT rate.

"It's either raise it by two-tenths of a percent or raise it more, because at this late date, we can't screw with the budget," the mayor said.

The council introduced three ordinances at its last meeting, knowing only one would be voted on, to give them latitude in the decision--an increase of one-tenth of a percent, one at two-tenths, and a third at three-tenths.

In the event the council decides against any increase, they could reject all three measures, and the EIT rate would remain unchanged.

However, that council will vote in favor of two-tenths of a percent increase as recommended by city administrators seems to be the most likely scenario at this point.

"I've never had a problem with (1.95 percent)," Warren said.

Updated to correct the amount of the current rental licensing annual fee.  It is $55, not $50 as the article originally stated.

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