Rates for parking permits in the town's lots will increase between zero and 4.7 percent next year, after a vote by the Board of Selectmen Tuesday, down from Parking Commission recommended increases of about 9 percent.
The permit increasing the most will be for the lumber yard lot on Elm Street, by the train station, from a yearly price of $516 to $540. The lowest increase will be for the center lot, which will remain at $120.
Board of Finance member John Sheffield has in the past weeks called for dramatically higher rates in the lumber yard lot as a source of revenue for the town. He made the case at one meeting to charge residents more than double the current rate of $516 per year in order to bring the price closer to that which he identifies as the true market rate.
The Board of Selectmen was acquainted with Sheffield's pitch, but decided to moderate the increases recommended by the Parking Commission, which were themselves a compromise from higher rates.
"I respectfully don't quite agree fully with Mr. Sheffiled on this," First Selectman Robert Mallozzi said at Tuesday's meeting, noting that the town is already increasing taxes higher than he'd like this year. "I have a problem with rates going up this dramatically. I think commuters are getting banged over the head by MTA every year. I am much more in favor of an increase that's more nominal."
The settled-upon $540 per year equates to a daily price of about $2.16 for weekdays. The lot has a seven-year wait list for permits.
Sheffield argued that the true market rate for the slots is reflected in the fact that the metered spaces directly adjacent to the train station charge $5 per day, which adds up to $1,250 per year for a commuter who parks there each weekday.
"Those are completely full before 7 a.m.," he said. "If you have plenty of people that rush to get there before 7 a.m., that, to me, sort of sets what the market is willing to pay for parking near the train station. I know plenty of people (who do that), and I did it for a year every day, every week. Especially since we need the extra revenue in this tight budget season, when we're having to make tough choices and reduce some services, we ought to be a bit more market-based in our pricing."
Parking Commission Chairman Keith Richey said he found Sheffield's argument compelling. He noted that some area residents and businesses privately charge between $500 and $3,000 a year to rent out an unused spot or parking place.
"I was one of the supporters of a larger increase for the lumber yard and a smaller increase for the other lots," Richey said. "It's one thing to increase all the commuter lots at one rate on the thinking that those people all have jobs in New York and are more able to absorb an increase."
The majority of the Parking Commission rejected an initial motion of an increase to $600 per year.
"I thought even $564 was a little high," said commissioner Rick Franco. "We're here to provide a service for our residents. We have parks, swimming pools, schools. Some people use them and some people don't. My wife and I chose not to use the schools, but we still paid taxes for them. I don't like these hidden taxes that we apply to our residents."
The Board of Selectmen chose not to increase the rate of the Center School lot, keeping the price at $120 for a yearly permit. Richey said that the commission hopes the low price of the lot will encourage workers downtown to park there, rather than on Elm Street. The commission has noted in the past the problem of workers' cars taking up spots shoppers could use, but suggested that the price increase to $130, in keeping with the other increases.
Selectman Beth Jones agreed with this position and successfully argued that the rate remain at $120 instead of $130. "I would still like to see some sort of carrot in getting workers to park in the Center School (lot), rather than in the center of town," she said at the BOS meeting.
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