At the end of the March 16th Municipal Budget Workshop, Mayor Carl Hokanson brought up a proposal by World Of Liquor requesting a decrease in their reserved parking fees for the five spaces next to their business at the Chestnut Street/Williams Street municipal parking lot. In January of this year council voted on Resolution 61-16 which extended the 2004 lease for reserved parking spaces at $800 a spot for five (5) spots and a total of $4,000.
Mayor Hokanson stated that he spoke with the owner of World Of Liquor on Chestnut Street and relayed the request, “He’s down about 20% to 30% so he’s asking that we would take the $4,000 and drop it down a little bit. He’s still willing to pay for the five spots but he’s just saying that the $4,000 is a little steep.”
Councilwoman-At-Large Charlene Storey stated, “I think, to me, maybe he cut one spot but we bring it down more than $800. That way we’re working with him . . . The last thing I want to see is a big store like that empty.”
The mayor responded, “He asked me and I just told him I can’t make the decision, it’s got to be council’s decision.”
The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Ken Blum interjected into the discussion, “The only thing I would ask is if we come up to a decision, fine, if it’s to reduce it I would like to say before that’s finalized we just discuss that with the borough attorney to make sure there’s no legal matters.”
Council then discussed possible options which whittled down to reducing the fee by $1,000 and losing one spot. In effect it would be $750 a spot for four parking spaces reserved for World Of Liquor’s customers. The councilwoman added, “It’s kind of a good faith thing on us to keep the business in town yet we’re not just giving it all away.”
Councilman Meola as well as Third Ward Councilman Ryan Kelly questioned the impact of the cost per space on the business. Councilman Meola said, “He’s a liquor store, I don’t think he’s going out of business.”
Councilman Kelly added, “It’s going to be a crutch as opposed to looking within his business and why he is down 20-30%. He’s going to relax a little bit . . . If he’s trending down 20 to 30% that’s not going to stop because of parking spots.”
Councilman Meola then rhetorically asked, “Those are his exclusive parking spots. Have they ever been empty? No, he’s making money.”
“I park there all the time,” added Councilman Kelly jokingly.
Councilwoman Storey reiterated, “I think it’s a good faith gesture.”
A straw poll was called for to see if council would tentatively approve reducing a parking space while lowering the overall fee with all but Councilman Kelly voting yes. While not in support of the reduction the councilman said he would be willing to offer his service free of charge to conduct a break-even analysis on how much each of those parking spots actually benefit World Of Liquor. He added, “I want to help him come up with numbers to show him how much money that’s actually bringing into his business. To show him that’s not the issue.”
While voting for the reduction, Fifth Ward Councilman Thomas ‘Thos’ Shipley stated he would also support Councilman Kelly’s proposal.
After the straw poll Mayor Hokanson stated that the Borough Attorney would be contacted for legal review and the CFO reiterated that if the renegotiated deal is struck that one of the signs currently reserving parking would have to come down.
Since last year, all municipal parking lots are free to the public. Part of the decision was to promote customer traffic downtown, the other was due to the fact that many meter machines had broken and the cost to replace them would have been almost as much as what was being taken in with revenue from the meters. Previously, when the parking meters were operational, three businesses – World Of Liquor being one of them – had reserved parking spaces. When parking became free, in order to avoid violating laws regarding uncompensated preferred treatment, the three businesses who had previously paid were given the opportunity to continue paying for spaces as El Lechon De Negron had been doing at Michael Mauri Park or remove the reserved parking spaces. World Of Liquor was the only business to continue with the reserved spaces.
Tony Pellegrino, the owner of World Of Liquor, found council’s recommended compromise to be disappointing – to say the least.
“Actually, the word I used was insulting. That’s how mad I am about it,” Tony said, “How they figured out that I was paying for five spots for ten years – $40,000 in total – and all of a sudden, in their wisdom, I need four spaces only now? That’s not a discount. A discount would be to say we’re going to give you an extra spot. Beautiful. No problem. But for them to take a spot back is ridiculous. I don’t know where that came from.”
[T]hey don’t know how to treat business people in this town and that is the problem with Roselle Park and that’s what you see downtown.”
Tony went on to clarify that he loses 20-30% of business during car shows, not in general, and this latest recommended compromise by council to remove one parking space hurts more than helps. He commented, “There’s no logic to it and no help to a business person in town. That’s like moving you from a three-bedroom apartment to a two-bedroom apartment when you need the three rooms. That’s not a discount. I’ll just pay for the five spots at $4,000.”