Borough Council President Bill Scandone and Revitalization Committee Chair Joe Franlin (who is seeking appointment to Borough Council Sept. 20) continued to avoid questions late last week on a plan to double parking rates on Main Street in New Hope, standing by statements claiming that the controversial move is merely a follow up to a 2010 study, and that its purpose is solely to drive employees of local businesses away from prime parking spots as a convenience to visitors.
But interviews with borough officials and documents dating back to 2015 tell a much different tale.
In fact, evidence suggests that the potential increase in parking meter rates has been discussed for at least a year and a half, and was a factor in New Hope’s adoption of the pay-by-phone Parkmobil meter payment system in the spring of 2015. Ironically, the very system contracted by New Hope to make raising rates easier also appears to have made it more necessary.
Even more interesting is information emerging about a little-known borough advisory group referred to as the “Parking Subcommittee.” It’s part of Borough Council’s Revitalization Committee, and is essential to the formulation of New Hope’s parking policy, according to meeting minutes and members of the larger group.
That committee’s leader, Joe Franlin, has not responded to questions about the Parking Subcommittee, or why he is in favor of the parking rate increase, or his role in advising Borough Council on the conclusions of the Parking Subcommittee, but sources indicate that it is headed by Dee Dee Bowman (chairperson of New Hope’s Historic Architectural Review Board), and includes Ed Duffy (former Borough Council member), Connie Gering (Borough Council Member), Cliff Montgomery (Borough Council Member), Polly Wood (representing the Free Library of New Hope & Solebury), Theresa Sanpietro (representing the Bucks County Playhouse), and Jules Sghiaiti of Clusters Caramel Corn (representing the business community).
A document obtained by the Free Press and dated May 26, 2016, reads, “Parking: Connie gave a report on a seminar she attended with Allison Kinglsley regarding parking. This did support our suggestions of higher rates in the key downtown area. Other things that had been mentioned were raising the rates of certain meters as the night goes on. They are also looking into parking kiosks instead of meters…Dee Dee is still looking into permit parking: who has permits, where those permits are for and the different prices of permits.”
But the Revitalization Committee and its Parking Subcommittee’s focus on raising parking meter rates to compensate for the Parkmobil fiasco is not a recent development. On Oct. 21, 2015, the Free Press reported that the Revitalization Committee had already recommended raising parking rates and extending parking meter hours of operation to compensate for a revenue shortfall caused by the Parkmobil phone-based payment system the borough adopted the prior spring. Parkmobil users receive electronic warnings on their cell phones when their parking meters are about to run out and, unfortunately for the borough, revenue from parking tickets dropped as a result. Parking meter payments and parking tickets make up a significant portion of New Hope’s annual operating budget, which remains imperiled by the capital spending excesses of recent years.
In fact, the ability to raise parking rates quickly and easily was a major consideration in the adoption of Parkmobil, according to borough officials interviewed at the time, although other local politicos vigorously denied that any “formal” recommendation on parking had been provided by the Revitalization Committee.
So, why are New Hope’s leaders continuing to avoid saying whether their Parkmobil plan backfired, and instead blaming the hefty parking rate hike on employees of local businesses hogging all the centrally-located meters? Scandone and Franlin aren’t talking.
But a Revitalization Committee document from September 2015 sheds some light:
“Parking Update- Merchants would like to have information cards to explain the parking app. A suggestion was made to talk to Chief Cummings. Over 600 users signed up for the app in the first month. Parking citations are down, which means less revenue. The Borough may need to change pricing for parking. ‘Meter Angel’ has been good PR for the town. Possibility of changing times for meters was discussed. The Borough is in support of raising parking fee but not changing meter hours.”
And interviews this week with current members of the Revitalization Committee revealed tensions around discussions of parking rate increases dating back to the beginning of 2015.
“When we had a discussion about installing Parkmobil in early 2015, the possibility of a parking increase was also discussed,” confirmed Herb Millman, current Revitalization Committee member, former president and current board member of the New Hope Chamber of Commerce, and member of New Hope Eagle Volunteer Fire Company. “Then, the recommendation was made to Borough Council, but they didn’t pursue it.”
Millman, and his business partner and husband John Dwyer, are frustrated after being out-talked and out-voted on the parking issue for the past year and a half on the Revitalization Committee.
“The potential for increasing parking rates was a factor in deciding to choose Parkmobil,” explained Millman. “I started fighting it and raising my voice against gathering money on the backs of tourists and visitors coming to town. I was against it when they brought it up again last April, because I’ve been against parking increases for 20 years and I’m not stopping any time soon.”
Millman agreed that Parking Subcommittee membership by Borough Council Members Gering and Montgomery render discussions about “recommendations” moot. Based on his working knowledge of committee procedure, “Having borough council members active on the committee meant that council was fully informed all along, and an official presentation would have been a mere formality,” he said.
“The business community should at least be approached before something like this parking rate increase is proposed,” observed Millman. “We pay a business privilege tax, we pay income tax, we sweep our sidewalks, and in this past year alone we have suffered with rain and oppressive heat. Now, on top of this, you want to double parking? Absurd.”
Millman’s partner and fellow Revitalization Committee Member John Dwyer is disappointed at the lack of communication on display by borough leadership.
“They have been talking about this for a very long time, he said. “It comes up at every meeting,” added Dwyer, who is also a former and current board member of New Hope Chamber, business owner, and member of the New Hope Eagle Volunteer Fire Company.
“Even if the purpose of this rate increase really is to promote parking turnover, the business community has historically been against increases, and so I’ve said ‘my constituency is against it,'” added Dwyer.
“If you are trying to make sure the business community is thriving, and you’re supposedly being consumer friendly, then why haven’t the businesses been involved in this decision? Why aren’t you reaching out to the chamber of commerce?
“In my opinion, it’s all about revenue, and the turnover is just an excuse,” Dwyer continued. “If you care about businesses, come talk to us. Putting this out for a vote without talking to the business community is disrespectful.”
It seems obvious that installing the parking app would reduce parking meter revenue. This, plus the fact that I believe the app was put in place by a prior Borough Council, and now a new combination of leadership has to deal with the complications.
The parking meters have made us less competitive with places like Peddler’s Village. When New Hope was much more of the end-all tourist destination, the parking meters may not have been such a factor. Now they’re seen as a deterrent to coming to New Hope at all. Tourists and residents alike feel as thought they’re being set up for a fine and/or punished if they can’t see the instruction on the meter IN THE DARK, or even see the time they’ve paid for because the display is cloudy.
I believe it’s a serious issue, and I wonder whether parking revenue could be replaced by other Borough budget spending cuts?
What do similar towns do about parking and revenue?
Just some thoughts. It’s a complicated problem, and I don’t envy either “side” in trying to come up with a solution.
It’s actually quite disappointing to read about a group of individual who represent the interests of New Hope, implement a new business model to use an automated app to monitor and collect parking fees and obviously fail to do any level of prior due diligence to evaluate the potential impact on future cash flows related to parking tickets and fines (did anyone even ask other townships what their experiences were)? Does anyone on this counsel have an MBA or some form of real life business experiences outside owning a small shop downtown? Ever hear of the word “consultant”…….
I live in Stockton no and get asked to go to New Hope all the time by visiting guests. I take them everywhere else BUT New Hope. Ticketed to many times as I was going to the czar and having a very heavy fellow tell me uh to late already started with the ticket. The lot by the police station half the time meters not functioning correctly Nd double or over charge my credit card. No thank you No Hope you’re not getting my money or time anymore. And I tell everyone i know to park in LAmbertville and walk over if you must go. I’ll stay in NJ
I am not informed about how the app works or what the developers charge or % they take but, I suspect that every municipality that employs this app is suffering the same fate (reduced fines). That said, New Hope should approach the app developer and insist on a reduced charge to compensate for this loss. Perhaps the Council should contact the other municipalities to discuss their business relationship with the app developer and the possible solutions they may have reached. I find the Council’s approach to be the typical unimaginative, easy, thoughtless, screw you solution – raise the price, taxes,fees, etc.