An advisory sub-committee of New Hope Borough Council has recommended raising parking rates and extending parking meter hours of operation to compensate for a shortfall caused by a mobile phone-based payment system the borough adopted last spring, according to multiple sources.
Separately, the borough is also considering a move to require “registration” by commercial building owners to assess fire safety, property maintenance and “appearance,” and will charge them a $65 annual inspection fee to be paid to Keystone Municipal Services, to whom New Hope has already outsourced its code administration and building inspections.
Both moves are being promoted as a way to help “revitalize” New Hope’s flagging economy, according to information obtained by the Free Press.
When Borough Council entered into licensing and other agreements last spring with Parkmobile, a service that allows enrolled drivers to pay for metered parking from their mobile phones for a fee, the new arrangement was touted as consumer-friendly revenue enhancement.
But user sign-ups for the application exceeded expectations in the early months, and since motorists are notified by phone 15 minutes before their meters expire, parking ticket revenue is declining, say sources.
Parking meter payments and parking tickets make up a significant portion of New Hope’s annual operating budget.
A spokesperson for the borough downplayed the impact of its new mobile phone meter payment plan on parking revenue, saying that data for August and September 2015 show a decline year-over-year of only around $1,000. “It’s a bit early to state that we have experienced a revenue decrease caused by Parkmobile usage.”
Nonetheless, members of New Hope Borough Council’s revitalization committee have said the borough should consider raising parking rates and extending meter operation times to compensate for a shortfall in parking ticket income. Borough Council thus far supports a parking meter rate hike, but is lukewarm on extending hours, sources indicate.
“Extending hours is ludicrous,” said Eric Lee, owner of Mystickal Tymes at 127 S. Main St. “They should have taken into account the loss of revenue from tickets. I can live with 25 cents more per hour on the meters, but not extending hours past 9 p.m.”
Herb Millman, owner of Cockamamie’s at 15 N. Main St., said, “It would be a travesty to raise parking fees when the business community is suffering the way it is. We’re up against free parking in Peddler’s Village, and 25 cents per hour parking in Doylestown, with free parking on Sunday.”
“People coming to town supports the town,” observed Jim Miscisin, owner of Affordable Art and Sugar Daddy’s in the Four Seasons Mall at 32 S. Main St. “Go back to the old system. If this technology is costing them money, why do it anyway?”
Joy Stevens of Curious Goods at 17 W. Ferry St. was even more blunt regarding the potential parking cost increase by the borough: “Are you kidding me ?” she asked. “They’re killing us already! Revenue is down because they’ve ticketed our visitors.”
Said another West Ferry Street retailer, “Why can’t the borough do something to help us for a change?”
In another controversial move, the same advisory committee, charged with ensuring New Hope’s “economic development,” has determined, along with at least one high-ranking borough official and Keystone, that the borough has the authority to start charging building owners $65 per year for “commercial registration.” Building owners not performing “required repairs” in areas including “appearance” will be issued violations and fines, say sources.
“There is a committee of council that meets from time-to-time to discuss our annual fire safety inspection program…they may be in a position to make a presentation to the full council in November,” acknowledged the borough spokesperson.
“There’s an inspection at the point of sale that’s required, but a yearly inspection is redundant, and there’s no reason for it,” Lee pointed out.
“Economic development is about promoting the economy, noted Millman. “Building inspection should not fall under economic development, it’s the job of the building inspector and other borough officials. Currently, every retail space is inspected prior to a new tenant moving in, for which we pay a fee, and every time property is sold in the borough, a full inspection takes place.
“My fear is that if this goes through, landlords will pass the $65 fee on to their tenants,” concluded Millman.
“Not necessary,” said Miscisin of the proposed commercial building registration and inspections. “They’re already sending mixed signals because they let some people slide with these old buildings. How will it affect the merchants?”
Said Stevens of buildings being inspected for, among other things, the undefined aesthetic of general appearance, “Not fair. What if ‘appearance’ is just up to the inspector’s personal taste?”