Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 10
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
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Borough Votes to Increase Parking Fees

Dilshanie Perera

After much deliberation at last Tuesday’s Borough meeting, members of Council voted to extend hours on parking meters downtown, charge for parking on Sunday, raise Sunday fees in the municipal parking garage, and sell approximately 50 monthly parking permits.

The first ordinance, which approved increasing parking rates in the Spring Street garage on Sundays from 25 cents to the regular rate of $1.25 per hour, as well as selling about 50 monthly parking permits in the garage for $180 per month, was passed in a 3-2 vote.

Council members Roger Martindell, Barbara Trelstad, and Kevin Wilkes voted in favor of the measure, while David Goldfarb and Andrew Koontz opposed it. Borough Council member Margaret Karcher was not present.

The proposal drew criticism from Mr. Koontz, who called the ordinance “a dramatic change that I don’t believe is ultimately necessary,” adding that the lower parking rate attracts people into the downtown business district to shop and enjoy the community.

Mr. Goldfarb opposed the ordinance on the grounds that when the municipal garage was built, it was solely intended for short-term parking. He worried that it would be difficult to confine long-term parkers to the upper level, and that they would take spaces away from people who want to come and go quickly.

Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi estimated that the fee increase on Sundays would yield between $100,000 and $125,000 per year, while the sale of 50 permits would guarantee $108,000 in additional revenue.

“We have to think of the garage as a business,” Mr. Bruschi informed Council, underscoring the fact that the garage brings in 1.5 million dollars per year in revenue. Cuts in Borough services would have to be made “if you don’t come up with over $200,000 in additional revenues,” he said in reference to balancing the 2009 budget.

Characterizing the proposed ordinance as a kind of “tax relief” for Borough residents, in that it would be extending the “use fee” at the garage on Sundays, Mr. Martindell said that over the past 20 years “the amount of money the Borough has collected in taxes has increased versus the amount of money collected from parking and parking-related fees.”

As for permit parking at the garage, Mr. Martindell lauded the flexibility of the proposal, which allows for Borough administration to determine the number of permits sold at a given time. They will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis, Mr. Bruschi said.

“If we have the space, and it’s just sitting there, let’s get some money for it,” Mr. Martindell added.

David Newton of Palmer Square Management noted that he frequently sees empty spaces on the upper levels of the parking garage, and that a combination of short term and long term parking usually works well. Nonetheless, he had reservations about the ordinance because of the change in Sunday rates. “Increasing fees on the street level is a potential hardship on the retailers in the downtown area.”

The second ordinance dealt specifically with parking meter hours along the streets and in the Borough parking yards downtown, proposing that from Monday through Saturday, the meters will charge users until 8 p.m., and on Sunday meter users will be charged from 1 to 8 p.m.

The ordinance was introduced with a 4-1 vote, with Mr. Goldfarb, Mr. Martindell, Ms. Trelstad, and Mr. Wilkes voting in favor and Mr. Koontz voting against it.

Mr. Koontz said that given the current state of the economy, collecting parking meter revenue on Sundays would discourage people from shopping in Princeton. “This is the wrong thing to do,” he said, announcing that he would not support the introduction of the ordinance.

As previously written, the ordinance had suggested charging meter users from noon to 5 p.m., but Mr. Wilkes suggested that the time to start collecting revenue be changed to 1 p.m. in order to accommodate the churches downtown.

Mr. Bruschi estimated that the anticipated Borough revenues to be gained from the changes would be $100,000 per year from the use of meters on Sundays, and $70,000 per year from the extension of the nighttime hours from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Barry Weisfeld of the Princeton Record Exchange argued that Princeton’s parking rates were already significantly higher than other comparable towns in New Jersey, and suggested that the extension of fee collection hours would hurt businesses downtown.

Calling Sunday a “regular business day,” Mr. Martindell observed that “revenues are voluntary and discretionary,” and that “unless we’re ready to slash Borough services drastically, the taxes are going to remain high. So the question is, how can we raise money aside from taxes?”

Mr. Wilkes suggested that there was a chance that the relationship between merchants and customers would improve as a result of the Sunday parking fee charge, since “meters enforce availability of parking spaces” and people wouldn’t be able to park in one place for the entire day.

The public hearing for the two ordinances, prior to the final decision by Council, will take place on April 7 at 7:30 p.m., according to Borough Clerk Andrea Quinty. After adoption, ordinances are effective once the mayor and the clerk sign them and they are published.

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