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Sunday, May 19, 2024

‘Significant step forward’: OKI chooses vendor for paid parking

At a Tuesday meeting, Oak Island Town Council unanimously voted to select a vendor from four proposals received from companies that wish to handle its paid parking program. Otto Connect came out on top over Pivot Parking, Premium Parking Services and UPP Global. (Courtesy photo)

OAK ISLAND — A six-month discussion about paid parking has come to a head in a Brunswick County Beach town.

At its meeting this week, Oak Island Town Council unanimously voted to select a vendor from four proposals received from companies that wish to handle its paid parking program. Otto Connect came out on top over Pivot Parking, Premium Parking Services and UPP Global.

READ MORE: Oak Island is one step closer to canning free parking by spring

The next step involves town attorney David Collins to draft a contract for council review.

Mayor Pro Tem John Bach, who brought back the paid parking conversation after a program failed to gain traction three years ago, said the vendor selection is the “penultimate, not the ultimate” step in the process.

“We’re continuing to investigate until there’s a signed contract and we have a proof of concept,” he said. “So there’s a lot of work to be done, but this is a significant step forward — very significant.”

Mayor S. Elizabeth White stressed that the council sets the parameters for Oak Island’s parking initiative and negotiates with Otto Connect on the final framework. The council will work through details, including rates, fees and fines, ahead of its Jan. 11 meeting. The goal is to have a contract in place ahead of the 2023-2024 parking season.

Otto Connect’s request for proposal suggests parking take place April 1 through Sept. 30 annually, with enforcement hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Though it also notes consideration will be given for the months of March 1 through Oct. 31, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., as some other North Carolina beach towns enforce.

The Town of Holden Beach — 21 miles south of Oak Island — signed its contract with Otto Connect in May and enforces parking from April through October for $3 an hour up to four hours, $15 a day and $60 a week. 

The company also has a contract with North Topsail Beach, which implemented its paid parking program in March 2021. It enforces parking year round, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and charges $5 an hour, $25 daily, $100 weekly and $250 a year. 

Part of Otto Connect’s appeal, according to Bach, came from its flat-fee structure to set up the program, which will not require upfront costs from the town. Its user-friendly system also was compelling.

“Our immediate goal is to deliver value to Oak Island with a 1-stop-shop, end-to-end parking solution via our SurfCAST mobile and web/cloud-based application,” the RFP notes.

Otto Connect’s app is tied to PayPal company Braintree to collect payments. It doesn’t propose the use of kiosks or meters, due to high maintenance costs and upkeep, especially in a “corrosive coastal environment.” 

The RFP explains an office may be set up for cash-paying customers and for permits. It also suggests the company install tablet-based stations in areas like town hall for those who don’t use smartphones or cellphones.

Council member Mark Martin said Otto Connect’s security measures ensure the technology in place protects each user’s privacy.

“They follow compliances for foreign financial transactions, and they adhere to security measures, so be assured that your information will be protected and safe,” he said.

The program will generate revenue from a little more than 1,200 public parking spaces in the town, including three town lots and more than 60 beach accesses. 

Otto Connect is set up to take a revenue percentage, according to its RFP. Typically, it’s a 30%-70% split, with the town benefitting from the majority.

“We provide a shared risk/reward solution that gives us a strong incentive to provide a positive experience for all Stakeholders and parking customers while reducing the risk of fixed cost by the Town,” the RFP states.

More than 8,000 people live on Oak Island year-round. During the summer months, the population swells to 50,000, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.

“Our goals have remained the same: public safety, preservation of property, enrichment of lifestyle at the beachfront and the creation of a revenue stream,” Bach said. “We still maintain that there should be a revenue stream, which reduces the strain, if you will, on the taxpayer.”

Bach emphasized residents of Oak Island will not be required to pay.

It was a hangup council member Bill Craft spoke out against: locals enduring the brunt of the program’s financial burden. He conceded Tuesday “the handwriting is on the wall, we are going to paid parking” but assured locals he continued to fight for them.

“I asked my specific questions point blank: What are you going to do for the people of Oak Island?” he said of discussions with each potential vendor. “The people of Oak Island pay all of these taxes … How are they honored? Well, they have free parking.”

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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