NEW HANOVER COUNTY — At Monday’s New Hanover County commissioners’ meeting, one board member’s attempt to open county-owned downtown parking spaces for free didn’t pass muster among his colleagues.
Commissioner Dane Scalise brought forth the idea at the last commissioners’ meeting, in an attempt to alleviate any potential deficits downtown businesses may face as the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge undergoes repairs in the next four months. The preservation project has been underway for just over a week and includes closing two lanes of the bridge at a time and detouring traffic to the Isabel Holmes Bridge. The bridges flank either side of the riverfront and are two of the main points of entry to downtown from outside New Hanover County.
Scalise asked the county to suspend collection of its hourly parking in county-owned spaces downtown during the bridge repair work to encourage people to still visit the area shops and restaurants. Some of the in the spaces in the county’s Second Street parking deck at the library are reserved for passholders and those contracts would remain in place, Scalise clarified.
According to county staff, the deck hourly parking fees bring in roughly $5,000 in fees monthly. At last week’s commissioner meeting, the county manager estimated it would lose $125,000, but after closer analysis, chief financial officer Eric Credle said it would be more like $70,000. Staff suggested that if Scalise’s motion passed, free parking would be allowed for 12 hours at a time on any given day, to end May 23; in the event of the bridge repairs being delayed, free parking would last until July 23.
Scalise said he heard from business owners, praising the plan, while county staff confirmed no one reached out in objection.
Zapple is the only commissioner to speak at the meeting in regard to the motion. He praised its good gesture but didn’t see how it was fair to people who already had monthly passes in the deck and were exempt from receiving free parking.
“They could easily say, ‘I was there supporting you before and I’ll be there supporting you afterwards. So my loyalty is there, but why am I not being included in this?’” Zapple surmised.
In Credle’s presentation of facts to commissioners, he explained allowing free hourly parking could also overcrowd the deck and compel people to utilize monthly passholder spaces. There is a certain number of free hourly spots and passholder spots, but Credle did not divulge specifics in the difference.
“It may potentially mitigate the impact on the monthly parkers’ spots,” he said.
Zapple was against the income loss it would inflict on the county budget as well, saying at this juncture it should not be “scrambling for every dollar.”
Commissioner Barfield explained at the last meeting — when Scalise originally walked on the free parking motion, not on the agenda — numbers were tight in the budget, specifically stating sales taxes have come in a bit lower than projected. Zapple brought up the point again.
“It may not seem like a lot, but in my wife’s and mine checkbook, last time I saw $70,000 rolling through, it was a lot,” Zapple said Thursday. “I still think so — maybe I’m old-school like that.”
The vote concluded with three nays — Zapple, Barfield and Pierce — and two yays.
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