Monday, July 4, 2022

Small victory for downtown parkers: Council approves 30 free minutes in 2nd street decks

City council members came to a compromise within the fiscal year 2022-2023 budget. Instead of removing all 90 free minutes from the 2nd Street parking decks, 30 minutes will remain free. (Port City Daily/file)

WILMINGTON — A provision to remove the first 90 free minutes in two downtown parking decks stirred some controversy among city council members since budget discussions began three months ago. It was cleared up at Tuesday night’s meeting in a 4-3 vote to amend the plan and allow 30 minutes of free parking to remain at both 2nd Street parking decks.

City staff originally recommended the removal of free time in its updated fee structure for all city parking (including on-street metered, surface parking and decks) in March. This provoked council member Kevin Spears to question the necessity over the last few meetings. After a vigorous discussion Tuesday, council members were still split on the decision, with Mayor Bill Saffo, Mayor Pro Tem Margaret Haynes and council member Clifford Barnett against giving away any free parking. 

READ MORE: Downtown parking increase proposed for city budget

Confusion ensued on how altering the proposed fee structure would impact the budget as a whole. Preserving 30 minutes free would account for up to $120,000 less revenue annually, according to the city.

While some council members referred to it as a “loss,” Spears reminded fellow officials the city already gives away 90 minutes free in the two parking decks.

“I’ve never seen something so simple turn into something so complicated,” Rivenbark said amid the back and forth. He was against removing all free minutes, calling it “drastic.”

“Let’s go down to 30 minutes,” he said, “but, for crying out loud, it’s not that much. We find money for some of the craziest stuff I’ve ever seen up here. We can sure as heck come up with 30 minutes free for two parking decks.”

Spears called the free 30 minutes an “olive branch.” He advocated for 60 free minutes in March and was eager to convince fellow council members to reconsider their June 7 votes  — 6-1 (Spears dissented) — to remove the 90 free minutes altogether.

Haynes noted the Downtown Parking Advisory Committee recommended the changes and spent a lot of time brainstorming the plan.

“The committee has representation of people who have businesses downtown, either owners or proprietors, and I guess some residents,” she said. “And this is what they came up with. We need to quit giving away parking.”

Effective July 1, drivers won’t have to pay for the first half hour at both 2nd Street parking decks. Thereafter, fees would be $1 per hour, with a maximum fee of $12. The plan is still in place to raise the maximum fee to $14 by fiscal year 2025.

City Manager Tony Caudle noted during the meeting the River Place and Convention Center parking decks — which always carry a fee — allow visitors a 20-minute grace period.

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. During a recent budget session, parking manager Chance Dunbar explained the city could easily funnel up to half-a-million dollars each year into the 2nd Street decks alone.

Barnett was in favor of the added revenue.

“People that drive in those decks are folks that can afford parking,” he said at the meeting. “I think they would be willing to say, ‘We need the deck and I’m willing to pay for that 90 minutes.’”

The funds help offset the cost of providing city services to residents without increasing the cost to taxpayers.

The last time city council raised parking rates was three years ago. All new parking fee changes go into effect July 1 and will be incrementally increased over the next three fiscal years. For on-street parking, it will go up 50 cents per year and decks will increase $1 to $2 per hour per year.


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