(Aug. 2, 2013) It appears that Ocean City’s residents have spoken – or scribbled, as the case may be – against the addition of paid parking in the resort, as a petition to stay the controversial metering ordinance was submitted to City Hall this week.
“We’re confident that we’re there, but we’ve told people that [the signatures] are not certified by the election board yet,” said petition drive organizer Vince Gisriel.
“You always try to build in a 200 to 300 signature cushion to allow for errors,” Gisriel said. “But we’ve audited the sheets very closely ourselves before turning them over to the city.”
The drive produced 1,770 signatures, according to the city’s preliminary review. Once the city’s Board of Election Supervisors verifies that the requisite number of registered voters have signed the petition, the town will be barred from enforcing the additional parking until the issue can be put to referendum.
“Legally, once they are in possession of those signatures, those meters will have to be bagged immediately and rendered ineffective until the voters say ‘yay’ or ‘nay,’” Gisriel said.
The magic number of signatures is 1,226 – 40 percent of the number of voters who participated in the last municipal election, per the city’s charter. However, it will likely take some time for the town to independently verify each signature with the voter rolls.
“There is no prescribed time frame,” said City Clerk Kelly Allmond. “It’ll take as long as it takes to get the ladies from the Board of Election Supervisors together and go through [the signatures].”
Per the ordinance, the city has added Cale-brand electronic meters 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.
Metering of the latter two lots has caused little disturbance, but there has been considerable public outcry about the metering of street parking, especially from adjacent property owners who claim the move will be counterproductive.
The selected streets were initially identified by the city as “low-hanging fruit” where paid parking could be implemented with the least impact on the neighborhood’s street usage due to what is believed to be a heavy rotation of non-overnight or commercial visitors.
But residents and business owners have objected to the town’s attempt to reap more revenue from day-vacationers, as has been the rationale. They also contested that the limited selection of streets was arbitrary, and had more to do with politics and appearance than with an actual need for revenue.
If and when the additional parking is blocked, the city will have to cover a $115,450 fiscal gap created by the loss of expected revenue from parking, according to town Budget Manager Jennie Knapp.
However, much of this revenue has already been realized, as the meters have been in effect for the entire month of July, which covers roughly a third of the anticipated income, Knapp said.
Unanticipated revenue boosts or cost decreases realized in the first few months of the 2013-2014 fiscal year, which began July 1, could cover this gap when the first budget amendment is calculated towards the end of the summer, Knapp said.
“It’s not a big challenge, although I don’t want to under-play it,” Knapp said. “Every year, we’ve presented a tighter and tighter budget on the expense side, so there’s not as much flexibility there as once would’ve been.”
Also in question is whether or not City Council, after the petition is verified, will vote to hold the referendum at the next general election – scheduled for November 2014 – or conduct a special election.
“They [council] don’t have to decide at the time the petition is received what they’re going to do,” Allmond said.
Holding a special election using the city’s voting equipment would cost roughly $6,000, Allmond said, slightly less than the cost of most regular elections, given that last year’s voter registration rolls would not have to be re-done for the referendum.
Conversely, putting the referendum on the regular ballot in 2014 would normally not incur any extra cost at all. But for 2014, the city is currently planning to merge its municipal election system with the general election run by the county, which uses electronic voting.
Thus, Allmond noted, the cost charged by the county to program and administer a referen-
dum may negate the cost disadvantage normally borne by the city in holding a special election, thereby giving the town less of an incentive to hold off on putting the issue to vote.
The petition effort has been hit with criticism from some who see it as a jab against the council’s majority voting bloc. But Gisriel maintained this week that the process has been much more organic than portrayed by those who have a political stake in it.
“No one is really in charge, to be honest. I did the initial filing because I’ve done it before,” said Gisriel, a former City Councilman and community activist. “There are over 50 people who have gotten signatures for this. Some people have gotten a couple hundred, some people just a couple.”
“Past that, it has legs of its own…from the first day I started carrying these, nine people out of ten signed.”