Thursday, January 13, 2011

Red Light for New Parking Rates

By David Harvey

Queens residents were spared increased parking fees after the Mayor and City Council reached an agreement dropping raised meter rates from the Mayor’s proposed mid-year budget.

Parking meter rates throughout the five boroughs and above 86th Street in Manhattan would have risen from 75 cents to $1 per hour. The Department of Transportation (DOT) was scheduled to begin retiming meters in Queens last week. While those rate increases were stalled by the agreement, rates in lower Manhattan will still change to $3, from $2.50 per hour.

According to DOT spokesman Montgomery Dean, some meters were retimed in Manhattan but are in the area where higher rates will remain. He said he was unsure if any meters were retimed in Queens.

Opposition to new meter rates increased in mid-December, when Council Members Diana Reyna (D-Bushwick) and James Vacca (D-Bronx) rallied against increased parking rates with business owners and residents on Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood. After the rally, Reyna and Vacca worked with Council colleagues and Speaker Christine Quinn, finally convincing the mayor to remove the rate hikes from the budget last week.

“The parking meter hike was a Band-Aid approach to the budget that would have emptied the pockets of consumers and merchants while the economy is still recovering,” Reyna said.

The rate increase, which the DOT estimated would add $2.4 million to city revenue, was cut from the budget as part of a package of revisions. While the city still faces a $585 million squeeze—including cuts to homeless services and library funding—nearly $35 million was restored, keeping fire stations open, some child services operating and the current parking rates intact.

“Outer-borough motorists can breathe a big sigh of relief,” Vacca said. “For once the budget will not be balanced on their backs.”

Victory may be short lived. The Mayor is expected to reintroduce the rate hikes in his preliminary fiscal year 2012 budget. Before the budget is released, Vacca and Reyna plan to introduce legislation that will prevent the city from raising meter rates more than 25 percent over any five-year period.

According to Council Member Eric A. Ulrich (R-Queens), who serves on the transportation board with Vacca, increased parking fees have the potential to hurt small businesses and residents.

“While small increases in taxes and fees don’t seem like a big deal to some people at City Hall, they add up quickly for residents,” Ulrich said. “These types of fiscal gimmicks are short-sighted and do little to address the city’s budget woes in the long run.”

Theodore Renz of the Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District said the business community is concerned that raised rates, as well as more parking tickets, would drive customers away from the commercial district.

“It’s a good idea to have some bylaw that if something is going to be increased, they hear from the people it’s going to impact,” he said.

Vacca and Reyna are drafting the legislation, and plan to introduce it as early as February.

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