Two weeks ago, during a Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce meeting on parking in downtown Rehoboth Beach, Nicola Pizza owner Nick Caggiano said he knew why the city began enforcing a 3-hour limit in the city’s primary commercial district.
“The three-hour time limit isn’t for the businesses,” he said. “It’s for the city to keep things beautiful.”
Well, it appears city property is about to get more beautiful.
The parking meter season in Rehoboth ended Sept. 16. During a Parking Garage Task Force meeting Oct. 4, City Manager Sharon Lynn said there’s been a $1 million jump in parking meter revenue from 2018 to 2019.
According to information from the city manager, in 2018, metered parking brought in $3.75 million in revenue. In 2019, that revenue increased to $4.71 million. The city budgeted $3.88 million meter revenue for the current fiscal year, meaning there’s a surplus of about $830,000 from parking meters alone on this year’s budget.
Lynn said she thought there were a number of reasons for the increase – a season of warm and sunny weather, increased efficiency because of improved technology and a $1-per-hour increase for parking meters in the city’s primary commercial district.
During the Sept. 19 chamber meeting, a number of business owners complained of a lag time between paying for ParkMobile and when payment registered in the system, which resulted in people getting parking tickets for time they had paid for.
In a follow-up email Oct. 4, Lynn said parking ticket revenue was not immediately available because the city accounting supervisor was out of the office. Revenue generated from permit parking, which was extended by two weeks this summer, also was not available.
In an email Oct. 8, Vicky Hatton, city accounting supervisor, said parking ticket revenue was down this season compared to last year. In 2019, she said, there was about $504,000 in parking ticket revenue, while in 2018, there was approximately $534,000. The city budgeted $520,000 of revenue from parking tickets this year and $515,000 last year.
Lynn said it’s unknown, but not likely, the city would lose revenue if commissioners stopped imposing the 3-hour parking limit. Lynn is taking a pragmatic approach, noting the city tried the new parking limitations this year because of requests from business owners to stimulate turnover.
“If we change back to hourly parking without time limits, there will be pushback from that, too,” she said. “Visitors will park closest to the beach and retail area; that’s been evident for many years.”
Lynn said, ideally, the additional revenue would be put back into the city’s general fund. Practically, she said, the money could be used for enhancements to visitor safety, increased pedestrian signage at crosswalks, a street signage project already underway or, if necessary, additional seasonal personnel.
City staff is beginning the process for next year’s budget, which begins April 1, and Lynn said she always takes a conservative approach to budgeting. She said she does not plan to project this year’s surplus onto next year’s budget because there are too many unknowns.
Parking garage discussion
Total parking meter revenue came during the parking garage task force’s discussion on revenue generated by the new city hall parking lot, which opened for use before the 2018 summer season.
Lynn said the parking lot generated $55,000 in revenue in 2018 and $68,500 in 2019. In addition to the reasons credited for the overall increase in parking revenue, Lynn said a specific reason for the increase in the lot was because of more awareness from visitors.
Task force members said they would like to see if the city could generate data on how much of the lot is used and for how much of the time. Representing the Rehoboth Beach Volunteer Fire Department on the task force, John Meng said that data would let the city know if the revenue has peaked or if there’s room for more.
Lynn didn’t have that set of data immediately available, but she said she had visually monitored lot usage throughout the summer. Unless there was an event, she said, the lot wasn’t used much in May, June, the end of August or September.
Some task force members remain skeptical of the need for the garage, but Commissioner Steve Scheffer, a commissioner liaison on the task force, said these questions and desired data sets are good for the process. Potential contractors are going to want to have the data too, and they help us refine what the city needs, he said.
As it stands, the task force isn’t planning to meet again until after a planning commission meeting Friday, Nov. 8. The planning commission has four vacant seats, including Commissioner Susan Gay, who was planning commission vice chair for the past year. The task force is waiting until there’s a full complement of planning commissioners to respond to a recent request by city commissioners to have more representation from the planning commission on the task force.The next planning commission meeting is Friday, Oct. 11. The four vacancies won’t be filled until commissioners vote Friday, Oct. 18.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with information related to parking ticket revenue that was provided after the deadline of the print edition.