The Hoboken City Council approved three different ordinances related to parking fees and fines, with some officials stating it’s necessary to fix this year’s budget gap which could approach $14 million.
The first parking related ordinance to come up for discussion concerned amending the rates for certain parking violations.
3rd Ward Councilman Michael Russo was the first to ask the Hoboken Parking Utility Director Ryan Sharp why is the city increasing the cost of violations by $5.
Russo has been adamant that the city is considering raising rates on its residents to plug a budget deficit, telling us at the previous council meeting on January 15 that residents are already overburdened by increases in rates for other services such as water usage.
He also believes that the city shouldn’t be charging for parking in the first place.
Sharp replied to Russo that Hoboken’s violation standard is typically about $45 for most violations and by adding $5 would put Hoboken on par with Jersey City, yet still below half of New York City.
At that point, 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, as head of the council’s Transportation and Parking Subcommittee, interjected by telling Sharp that Russo “just wants you to say that we’re trying to generate more revenues.”
Council President Jen Giattino chimed in, telling Sharp to “say it, because we are.”
Sharp told Russo, who was clearly annoyed by his council colleague’s remarks, that the city hasn’t raised the parking violation fee in more than 10 years.
“The thing is, you can’t expect to try to pay for technology that’s going to help with enforcement, for the management costs, everything that goes into managing parking enforcement and not raise the rates for 10 or 15 years,” Sharp explained.
Fisher then dropped a bombshell that caused some residents in attendance to yell out of turn.
While outgoing Business Administrator Stephen Marks announced last month that the budget deficit was in the ballpark of $7 million, Fisher said that the actual figure should exceed $10 million and could actually approach $14 million.
At the time, Marks also said that the budget shortfall could equate to 80 layoffs.
“What I’ve come to appreciate over time is that the city does very specifically rely on parking revenue to balance its annual budget. And what we’re seeing this year is, it’s not a $7 million deficit, it’s potentially closer to $14 million, it’s a giant number,” Fisher stated.
She added that the city will have to take other measures to offset the projected budget deficit, including a combination of increasing taxes, layoffs, along with identifying other ways to cut costs and create additional revenues.
“And using surplus to the extent that we have surplus to use,” the councilwoman exclaimed.
The vote to authorize an increase of parking violations by $5 passed 5-4, with Council members Michael DeFusco, Vanessa Falco, Ruben Ramos and Russo voting no.
Nevertheless, Russo wasn’t done with grilling Sharp when the ordinance to increase the price of residential parking permits came up.
According to the ordinance, the city wants to increase residential permits depending upon the number of cars residents own. For example, it would go from about $.29 per week, or $15 per year, to $1 per week, or $52 per year, for the first car.
For families with more than one car, the rate will go from $.58 per week, or $30 per year, to $2 per week, or $104 per year, for the second car, and from $1.73 per week, or $90 per year, to $4 per week for the third car.
Russo asked Sharp directly why the city is raising residential parking permit fees, to which Sharp said there are many reasons, but the primary one is that the parking authority isn’t making enough money to cover the costs of administration and management of the residential permit parking program.
Still, Russo challenged that by saying the parking authority has a surplus of about three to five million year over year.
But Sharp explained that just because the parking utility is realizing a surplus, it doesn’t mean that it automatically solves the residential parking permit issue because each program within the utility has different administrative and management costs, as well as costs for labor and materials.
That prompted Russo to ask whether revenue created for one program should then be allocated to only that program, by which Sharp said ideally yes but the utility has a history of allocating money to other programs to shore them up.
“When you look at each individual product, whether it’s residential permit, visitor permit, garage parking, your goal as an administrator is to try to be cost neutral with the product at a minimum,” Sharp responded.
“If you bring in more revenue for that product, great, then you can cross-subsidize other products that are in the red. In this case the residential permit parking program has been very much in the red.”
As expected, Russo stressed his opposition to raising the rates as a means for the city to generate revenue.
Fisher added that she was comfortable with an increase that made sense.
“To me $1 dollar per week was something that seemed rational, that we would be able to get the necessary votes for and hopefully not be that big of a burden to our community but better price one of our most valuable commodities in the city.”
Russo questioned Fisher on whether the rationale behind the increase was to potentially reduce the number of cars in the city or was it purely a financial decision.
She admitted that the ordinance is revenue driven.
“I’ve said it publicly, it is revenue driven considering the needs of the city and the parking utility and we have to provide services to our community, we have increasing costs to provide those services,” said Fisher.
The vote to approve the residential parking permits passed 5-4, with DeFusco, Falco, Ramos, and Russo voting no.
Finally, the council voted to increase a towing release processing fee by $5 that a tow company will have to pay and will likely pass down to drivers.
The council again voted 5-4, with the same aforementioned council members voting no.