Councilwoman Suggests Re-Examination Of Free Meter Parking

First Ward Councilwoman Jayme Negron addressed free meter parking that has been in effect since 2015 in all municipal parking lots. Resolution 125-18 authorized free parking at all municipal lots for 2018. Councilwoman Negron pulled the resolution from consent during the April 5th municipal meeting.

“I just wanted to talk about that for a second because,” stated the councilwoman, “Maybe next year around budget time we can maybe talk about fixing the parking machines. I think three years’ worth of parking fees would have been enough to maybe pay for the pavement of that parking lot. I’m not trying to make any enemies. I know everybody likes free parking.”

“To pave the lot?”, asked Mayor Carl Hokanson during the discussion.

Councilwoman Negron responded, “Over a course of time . . . it would eventually cover the cost.”

“Your son will be in his second term [as] mayor,” joked Mayor Hokanson.

“Well, it’s some money that would be able to go to [that],” said the councilwoman.

The mayor replied, “It’s minimal.”

In 2015, the governing body followed the recommendations of both Police Chief Paul Morrison and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Ken Blum to have free parking at the lots. During a budget workshop three years ago, the police department had a capital budget request of $121,000 with $76,000 of that – over 60% – budgeted to replace ten (10) central district meters. Parking meters fall under the jursdiction of the police department.

For years the meter machines in the municipal lots were falling into disrepair and the one at Michael Mauri Park was not functioning. The meter machines could no longer be repaired since they were not being serviced anymore and new meter machines along with the associated credit card fees were a factor in the recommendation. At that time, Police Chief Morrison suggested that the cost be postponed for the 2015 police department’s capital budget and that the free meters at the lots could be used as an incentive to have people visit downtown business. CFO Blum stated that the revenue lost from the meters was around $5,000 – based on 2014 figures – which was less than the cost to pay bank transaction fees.

Metered parking on the street was not changed and remain enforced to this day except during the year-end holiday season.

“I just feel that maybe people are getting too comfortable with the free parking and maybe businesses are taking advantage of parking there,” stated Councilwoman Negron last Thursday night, “We also don’t have any proof that this is helping our downtown much anyway. Maybe if we can do a study now and then compare if we start charging for parking that if that goes down. I just think it’s worth looking into.”

Referring back to on-street meter parking, the governing body at the time had weighed the possibility of removing all metered parking from the entire downtown business area but decided against it determining that such on street free parking would open up to having business owners and employees park in fornt of their respective establishments. This would defeat the purpose of giving shoppers an incentive to park close to places they frequent for free.

Councilman-At-Large Joseph DeIorio added to the conversation at the April 5th 2018 meeting by saying, “I’m not a fan of this resolution only because there’s no monitoring of it so we don’t know what the impact of it has been . . . Parking is always something difficult to determine. For example if employees of a small business want to park, they’re going to want to park as close as possible which would eat up spots of potential customers because customers don’t want to walk as much. So without that monitoring component and I haven’t seen a significant benefit. I haven’t heard anyone say ‘Wow, Roselle Park has free parking and I want to shop there’. It’s not happening.”

Councilman DeIorio went on to say, regarding the $76,000 budgeted meters, “I priced them out years ago for my other employer and I got considerable lower prices.”

Agreeing with the councilwoman, Councilman DeIorio stated that perhaps a study on the impact to businesses and benefit to shoppers could be conducted. The councilman wanted to find out if businesses saw an increase in clientele due to the free parking at lots or if employees were benefitting from it or if residents were using the lots as their personal parking spaces. There are laws on the books which prohibit long-term and overnight parking in the municipal lots. Also, there was no discussion of whether a study has been conducted on the benefit of district-wide free parking during the holiday season at the end of every year.

The councilman-at-large concluded, “I would be more in favor of this if I knew there was some way of looking at this but in three years, personally, I haven’t seen any result that’s a benefit at this point.”

The resolution was passed with only Council-At-Large DeIorio voting in the negative.