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Ocean City

First reading of budget passed; revenue generated by additional paid parking most contentious item

(May 24, 2013) The Ocean City Council passed the first reading of the city’s 2013-2014 fiscal year budget this week, with the most contentious financial item again being the revenue generated by additional paid parking in selected areas of the resort.

As they have for several weeks, visibly aggravated elected officials fought back against residents of the Ocean Place condominium on 146th Street, where electronic parking meters – known as Cale machines – are set to be installed.

“I’m sitting here wondering why we even have elected officials [to represent the entire community] … when your intent is that you don’t want to pay for parking in front of your house,” Council Secretary Mary Knight told Ocean Place unit owners Mac Balkcom and Michael Feen as the meeting entered its third hour of lobbying.

“You don’t have to debate me, because you’re not going to change my mind,” she said.

But Knight’s declaration did not stop Balkcom and Feen from launching another attempt to do just that. This time, however, they implored the council not to eliminate the planned street meter additions immediately, but instead to delay their implementation until after a more comprehensive study is done, even if it concluded that the street to the north of their building did, indeed, need to be metered.

“We just want to know that it’s been done thoughtfully, whatever street you pick,” Balkcom said.

However, he noted, an analysis by one of Ocean Place’s unit owners indicated that 146th Street’s high ratio of residential units to street parking spaces made it less ideal than many other streets where metering is not to be implemented.

“I think this is a pretty clear demonstration that 146th wasn’t the best one to pick,” he said.

“We’d like to come up with a master plan that includes a sustainable way forward and includes the people and includes the stakeholders,” Feen said. “If it’s done, and you put parking all over the place, I may not like it but I’ll accept it because it was done fairly and equitably.”

Under the current budget proposal, the city would add Cale machines to the ocean block of 146th and 49th streets, the stretch of 131st Street between Coastal Highway and Sinepuxent Avenue, and the west side of Philadelphia Avenue below the Route 50 Bridge.

Meters would also go into the municipal lots at City Hall and the 65th Street Public Safety Building, although these have raised less ire among residents.

The selected streets were identified as “low-hanging fruit,” where paid parking could be implemented with the least impact on the neighborhood’s street use because of what city officials believe to be a heavy rotation of non-overnight or commercial visitors.

But those who are affected by the additions have, in Feen’s words, found the logic “arbitrary and anecdotal.”

The council continued to defend its reasoning for the selected streets this week, however.

“This is revenue that we need,” Knight said. “146th Street is just like 49th. On 49th, all of the Ocean Pines people come and instead of paying to park in their lot, they park free on the street. On 146th, all the Delaware people park for free.”

The Ocean Place building lies to the south of 146th Street, with the Delaware line to the north. The Ocean Pines Beach Club borders 49th.

The estimated income from the new meters – not including those at the City Hall and 65th Street lots – is slightly over $115,000, according to city Budget Manager Jennie Knapp. But the cost of the 11 new Cale machines – which the city has already ordered – is $78,650. That money will come out of the current budget year, but would otherwise be rolled over into FY14, meaning the net gain from street parking for the coming cycle will be around $37,000.

“To say you were discriminated against isn’t true,” said Councilman Dennis Dare, noting that 146th and 49th both have paid lots to their north and large developments to their south.

“I’ve told you what my feeling is about non-taxpayers and non-residents,” Dare continued. “Ocean City is the only place you can park for free, and then go across the dune to have the lifeguard look after you all afternoon and then have Public Works come by at night and clean up the mess you left. I don’t think the taxpayers need to be in this all by themselves.”

However, Balkcom and Feen’s confidence seemed to have been bolstered earlier in the session by the council’s enthusiasm for a skate park subcommittee and they requested the same for parking.

“We’re asking for nothing more than for what [skate park petitioner] Michael Durkin got through his appeal,” Feen said.

“I think the issues are the same,” Balkcom said. “It’s about money and shuffling it from here to there. We would like to see this studied more carefully rather than saying, ‘This is how we’re going to make a quick buck.’”

“If these gentlemen think a study group is the way to go forward, then I’m willing to make that motion,” said Councilman Brent Ashley, who had opposed the original proposal to increase paid parking.

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas seconded the motion. But the rest of council seemed far less optimistic about the solution.

“A committee is us sitting around and talking about it. A real feasibility study costs us money,” Knight said. “It it’s a committee, I see no success in it. If it’s a study, I see it costing us money.”

“This kind of work doesn’t come out of a committee,” said Councilman Joe Mitrecic. “It comes out of a study by an independent contractor that someone has to pay. A committee is something that’s going to make people feel good tonight, but it’s not going to get anything done.”

“I was just following your lead on the skate park,” Ashley quipped.

The council voted unanimously to develop a proposal for a professional parking study, but Ashley’s motion to strike the additional paid parking from the budget in the interim was shot down.

“If the study doesn’t mete out that we should have paid parking [at 146th Street], [the machines] could always be taken off,” Mitrecic said.

Former Councilman Joe Hall also appeared at the meeting to voice his own concerns about the parking selections, noting that he had requested a parking study be done in 2010, but had been stonewalled by his colleagues.

“How did Mr. Graves [owner of the Crab Bag on 131st Street] end up with paid parking and not on 60th Street?” Hall asked.

City Engineer Terry McGean, in his initial presentation to council, had identified both 131St and 60th Streets as potentially lucrative and accessible for paid parking, given their commercial presence. Sixtieth Street borders Hall’s own establishment – Hall’s Restaurant – and serves as an access road to Fager’s Island.

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