Rates for street parking would double under a proposal by the Morristown Parking Authority, which also seeks to install solar-powered meters that accept credit cards.
If approved by the town council, hourly rates would go from 50 cents to $1 on Jan. 1, 2015, in the first hike since 1998.
The increase is necessary, said parking authority Executive Director George Fiore, to repay $35 million of debt for construction of parking garages that spurred commercial and residential projects vital to Morristown’s downtown revival over the last two decades.
Some of the debt also covers construction of the authority’s offices at 14 Maple Ave., home to the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and other nonprofits that make annual payments to the town in lieu of taxes, Fiore said.
“We’ve always been very sensitive to the business community and its needs,” said Fiore, noting that the authority held off pressing for increases throughout the recession. “We’ve had no rate increase for 16 years. I know of no other business able to make that claim.”
The $1 dollar meter rate is comparable to fees in many places around the region, he said. Princeton charges $1.25; New Brunswick, Hoboken, Newark and Easton, PA, are $1, he said.
The proposed increase also would cover replacement of 360 meters on major downtown streets, a $235,000 undertaking. The new solar-powered devices offer customers the convenience of credit- and debit card payments, Fiore said.
New meters would be installed along South, DeHart, Early, Morris and Green streets; Speedwell and (portions of) Maple avenues, and Community and Schuyler places, and around the historic Morristown Green.
The authority hopes higher metered fares persuade shoppers to use parking garages for longer visits. This should create more turnover on the streets, boosting motorists’ chances of finding a space and potentially generating more walk-in business for shops, Fiore suggested.
Even with the increases, Morristown metered parking would remain slightly cheaper than the authority’s garage rates–an anomaly in the industry, the director said.
Established in 1956 by the town board of aldermen (forerunner of today’s council), the Morristown Parking Authority is a semi-autonomous public corporation. The MPA’s board controls pricing in its parking garages, while the council approves rates for street meters.
Starting next year, the authority’s annual debt payments rise by $370,000, for a total of $2.45 million a year, Fiore said.
The debt was incurred for construction of the DeHart, Dalton and Ann/Bank Street garages, which added about 1,900 spaces downtown, and for the authority’s headquarters, an environmental showcase with rooftop solar panels, geothermal wells for climate control and a “bio-wall” of vegetation for natural air purification.
Robert Goldsmith, attorney for the authority, estimated the garages helped drive between $250- and $350 million of re-development, including conversion of the Epstein’s department store into luxury housing, restaurants and shops; the Morris Plaza apartments; and the arrival of Century 21 in the former Macy’s site fronting the Green.
The authority reaps no revenues from parking tickets–those monies are split by the town and state–nor has it ever received any tax dollars from town coffers, Goldsmith said.
Historically, the town government and the parking authority have enjoyed cordial relations.
In recent years, the authority agreed to enforce town parking regulations on residential streets, easing the burden on town police at an annual cost to the authority of $58,000, Goldsmith said.
As downtown nightlife has exploded, meanwhile, the authority has assumed added security costs, paying $75,000 yearly for private security patrols and $40,000 for special police patrols.
The garages also welcome residents’ cars free of charge during snowstorms, to clear local streets for plows.
“We’re happy to do it,” Fiore said.
The parking authority has worked with the local business community, through the Morristown Partnership, to make possible the Morristown Farmers Market, the Fall Festival on the Green and other events. Parking also is free during the annual Morris County St. Patrick’s Parade.
Fiore said he does not anticipate seeking another rate increase for five- to 10 years. The formal proposal should come before the council later this summer, he said.