Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Downtown parking increase proposed for city budget

At recent budget workshop, city parking manager suggested raising rates incrementally over next three years

Parking manager Chance Dunbar recommended a three-year incremental increase for downtown parking. Council will vote to approve it within its FY23 budget. (Port City Daily/File photo)

WILMINGTON — The last time the City of Wilmington revised its paid parking fees was three years ago. Since then, the city has seen thousands of citizens and tourists cycle through its downtown and utilize its parking decks and on-street spots. In an effort to help offset infrastructure maintenance for these locations, city parking manager Chance Dunbar is proposing a three-year incremental increase to all downtown paid parking.

He noted to council during a Mar. 25 budget work session the city is on average below its municipal parking fee benchmarks compared to similar cities in size and scope. Also, this year alone the city is funneling $2 million into rehabbing the 30-year-old Second Street parking deck. City spokesperson Jennifer Dandron explained this deck reaches 80% capacity on weekdays and averages up to 40% capacity on weekends.

“We could easily put in a quarter-million to a half-million dollars per year into that facility alone,” Dunbar explained. “The majority of these increases will help get our parking fund to where it needs to be to maintain our facilities over the course of 5, 10, 15 and 30 years.”

Revenues from paid parking cover annual operating expenditures — which totaled $2.4 million in 2021. Anything remaining is put in a parking reserve fund for structural repairs and technological improvements.

Dunbar’s recommendations include increasing on-street parking by 50 cents per hour, per year for the next three years, with a final goal of $3 per hour by fiscal year 2025. Parking deck fees are broken into hourly rates, monthly rates, reserved rates and special event flat fees. He is also recommending a slow, $1 to $2 increase each year for those rates. (See the full breakdown of proposed increases below.)

“The incremental revisions over three fiscal years will be less impactful each year but, ultimately, get to our end result,” Dunbar told council members.

According to city finance records, parking fees brought in $3.3 million for the city in 2021, $3 million in 2020 and $3.5 million in 2019.

While most council members and Mayor Bill Saffo were in support of the recommendations, council member Kevin Spears raised concerns about increasing rates while inflation is so high (it hit the 8.5% mark last month, according to the U.S. Labor Department, a 40-year record).

“Here’s where we should be not trying to compete with others,” Spears said at the meeting. “With everything we see … inflation, prices going up, here’s a small thing where, for a period of time, we could just remain the same.”

He went on to recommend something more minor than the proposed changes, such as limiting the current 90-minutes free in parking decks to 60.

“We do want our citizens to buy in and believe we’re not at every opportunity trying to just pull another nickel from wherever we can pull it from,” Spears added.

He and Mayor Saffo mentioned the more “aggressive” price hikes at Carolina and Wrightsville beaches and warned against causing the same pushback.

Carolina Beach charges $5 per hour in its lot between March and October and recently increased its daily rate from $20 to $25.

READ MORE: Not without pushback, Carolina Beach to start charging year-round for parking

Wrightsville Beach increased its hourly rates from $3 to $5 in 2020 and daily rates went up from $17 to $25.

READ MORE: Wrightsville Beach increases parking rates, violation fees

Saffo also brought up the fact that many privately owned lots downtown charge hourly rates between $4 and $6, depending on the time of year.

“The time to give away parking has passed,” Mayor Pro Tem Margaret Haynes said. “We have commitments to pay … We have loans we’ve got to pay for.”

She added the years of “begging people to come downtown” are over, that the area is alive and well.

The City of Wilmington’s parking management section manages 975 on-street metered spots, 79 on-street time-limited spots and 300 on-street residential permitted spaces. The parking decks account for 1,943 parking spaces and the surface lots add 144 spaces. 

While it may seem like parking is bountiful, Dandron said the 17-year-old Market Street parking deck often reaches full occupancy during the weekends — specifically, during summer months. Mayor Bill Saffo said, based on his experience, it’s nearly impossible to find street parking downtown, especially weekends.

“We’ve got a lot of parking to build downtown,” Saffo said at the budget session. “We’ve all been approached by different groups and people saying we need more parking here and there. This is one way we fund that.”

Council member Charlie Rivenbark explained Dunbar and the Downtown Parking Advisory Committee — composed of citizens appointed by council — review the parking structure fees annually, or at least every two years.

“I like the fact that you’re doing it incrementally instead of shock and awe,” Saffo told Dunbar.

The mayor mentioned the city is in a unique situation where it can utilize excess parking funds toward other issues, such as affordable housing. He also said the funds help offset the cost of providing city services to residents without increasing the cost to taxpayers.

“It’s one of the few places we can make some adjustment and make revenue for the city, as well as make sure we take care of parking necessary to support what’s happening downtown,” he added.

Council will vote on the proposed fiscal year 2023 budget in June. A recommended budget will be brought forth next month, which could include any fee changes including for parking.

Recommended changes in the parking structure include:

  • On-street meters: increase $.50 per hour, per year. This would raise on-street meters to $2 per hour for fiscal year 2023, with the goal to be $3 per hour by fiscal year 2025
  • Market and Second streets parking deck: Remove the first free 90 minutes and replace it with $1 for the first hour, with a maximum fee of $12 in FY23; then $14 by FY25
    • Evening flat fees for parking decks: up to $7 for FY23 and up to $8 in FY25
    • Monthly fees parking decks: up to $75 for FY23; then $90 by FY25
    • Reserved monthly fees for parking decks: up to $125 for FY23; then $140 for FY25
  • Second Street and Hannah Block street lots: increase maximum daily fee to $12 by FY23; up to $14 by FY25
    • Flat weekend fees (Friday night or Saturday all day or Sunday all day): increase to $12 for FY23; to $14 by FY25
    • Monthly fees for street lots: increase to $75 by FY23; up to $90 by FY25
  • Convention Center
    • Increase the maximum fees from $13 to $15 by FY23
    • Special events (such as Live Oak Bank Pavilion concerts): increase from $13 flat fee to $15 by FY23; raise to $20 by FY24
  • River Place Deck: increase maximum fees from $13 to $14 in FY24; increase to $15 by FY25 and reserved monthly fees would increase to $175 from $150 in FY25

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