Potential changes to extend the paid parking season and eliminate free parking nights in Dewey met some opposition from a business leader at the July 21 town council meeting, where commissioners stressed the need for public input and more information before making any decisions.
The paid parking season runs annually from May 15 to Sept. 15. By changing the effective dates to May 1 to Oct. 1 for the 2024 season, the town could raise an additional $90,000 in revenue for those 30 additional days, Town Manager Bill Zolper said.
“We rely heavily on parking,” he said. “For us to give away days, or not take advantage of those 15 [days] in the front and 15 in the back, I think, is an opportunity missed.”
The paid parking season in Bethany, Rehoboth and Dewey is currently May 15 to Sept. 15, Mayor Bill Stevens said. In Lewes, it runs from May 1 to Oct. 14 in the downtown area and May 1 to Sept. 30 at the beach. In Ocean City, the parking season is April 1 to Oct. 31.
The idea of moving up the start of paid parking season also has to do with issues revolving around crowds in the early part of May when parking is free, Stevens said. If people are in town at that time, the town could generate revenue with paid parking.
The town also allows free parking from 5 to 11 p.m., Monday through Wednesday nights. The Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce hosts free movie nights on the beach Mondays, and a free beach bonfire night on Wednesdays.
Commissioner Elisabeth Gibbings said she would be comfortable beginning the parking season earlier, but would be more hesitant in eliminating free parking nights, as they draw people to town and to restaurants.
Commissioner Paul Bauer agreed, and asked for the estimated lost revenue on free parking nights. About $200,000, Zolper said.
“That’s a huge amount,” Zolper said. “We’re giving away money.”
Just a few parking changes could pay for additional police officers requested by the chief, Gibbings said.
Commissioner Gary Persinger said he’s surprised and skeptical at the estimated lost revenue, which he said seems high; he said he would like to see the background on that.
Persinger said he doesn’t oppose either parking change, but questions rushing to a decision. Changes wouldn’t occur until May, he said, and this is the first public discussion of the issue. The agenda items should be tabled until the next meeting, at least, he said.
The town has advertised free parking nights, he said, and commissioners should get more input from the public. Notification should go out via the town newsletter and email, he said, so the public has the opportunity to comment about what is being considered.
Bauer and Gibbings said they agreed; Commissioner David Jasinski said he would like to have the discussion with financial information behind it.
Rehoboth is pretty crowded Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Zolper said, noting the past July 4 was on a Tuesday.
“Thousands of people were in town and parking was free,” he said. “We missed a huge opportunity for money that night.”
During public comment, Dewey Business Partnership President Steve “Monty” Montgomery said he agrees with the need for revenue, knowing the town has no property tax.
However, he said, as one of the people behind the establishment of free parking nights and the host of many events that are scheduled around the paid parking season, Montgomery asked commissioners to discuss other potential revenue streams.
It seems like easy money, Montgomery said, but it’s not good to push people away. Current practices are well-established and good for business, he said, asking commissioners to slow it down, get public input and discuss options before making any decisions.
Stevens said he understands both sides of the argument, and favors additional revenue that could support public safety needs.
Commissioners could review financials, including a staffing plan, at the August meeting, he said. Before then, information on the potential changes can be detailed in the next town newsletter, and the public will have time for comment, he said.