CAROLINA BEACH — Big changes could be coming to Carolina Beach when it comes to parking as Town Council works to adjust just how the town runs its 19 parking lots. Right now, the town charges $2.50 an hour to park in lots, but if things go according to plan that rate could double and the length of the parking season could also see an extension.
At Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, the first item on the agenda was to discuss the future of parking in Carolina Beach — and changes were significant, with a proposed $5 an hour parking rate for the majority of town-owned parking lots. Another change could be coming to the on-street parking meter rates, up to $3 per hour (from $2.50). Daily parking rates would increase to $20 a day for the majority of the town lots as well, up from $17 a day.
For New Hanover beach towns, parking is big business
Parking revenues are big business for the municipalities in New Hanover County. Part of that has to do with an exemption to state law that allows municipalities within the county to do whatever they choose to do with parking revenues from on-street parking. This is in contrast to the rest of the state where cities and towns are required to put their on-street parking revenues back into parking-related expenses.
According to General Statute 160A-301, “Proceeds from the use of parking meters on public streets must be used to defray the cost of enforcing and administering traffic and parking ordinances and regulations.”
But in the late 90s, the Town of Wrightsville Beach petitioned the state legislature to allow the town to use parking revenues for ‘any public purpose.’ This means the revenues from parking could be used the same way general fund money would be spent — and it helps Wrightsville Beach keep property taxes so low. In the Fiscal Year 2019-2020 budget, property tax projections came in at $3.30 million — the town’s parking fees are expected to bring in $3.22 million in Wrightsville Beach.
But even Wrightsville Beach, a town that has the perceived reputation of overcharging for parking and exclusivity only charges $3 an hour, and enforcement ends at 7 p.m. (some lots end at 8 p.m.).
Carolina Beach, on the other hand, has extended its parking enforcement hours all the way until 10 p.m., and now the town is considering extending the parking season by a month on either end of the season. The new season would extend from the beginning of March to the end of November; currently, parking is only enforced in Carolina Beach from April 1 through October 31.
Why the change?
Over the past few years the Town of Carolina Beach has seen an increase in the number of private parking lots, Town Manager Ed Parvin said. They have continued to charge $5 an hour and are successful, so it appears the town is taking its cue from the private sector’s success.
Another thing to consider is the ongoing uncertainty with one of the town’s biggest revenue generators — Freeman Park. Every year the town brings in millions of dollars worth of revenue from Freeman Park (as well as parking; you can see the breakdown above). But thanks to ongoing lawsuits by private property owners at Freeman Park and the constant erosion of the north end, the future of the park is unknown.
Last year the town was forced to close a significant portion of the park and limited the number of people it would allow onto the beach — it even stopped selling day passes for several weeks. All of this equals a revenue loss from the General Fund.
At the end of 2019 elected leaders made some changes to how Freeman Park would operate including eliminating camping during the ‘peak season.’
The Town Council did not make any changes on Tuesday night, but the item and proposed changes will be brought forward to the council at the first March meeting.