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Village meter fees in limbo

Published May 2, 2007


Indecision over how to pay the nearly $700, 000 bill for the new boardwalk at John's Pass Village forced the postponement of a planned hike in parking meter fees last week.

The commission had informally decided during an early April workshop to double parking fees from the present 50 cents an hour to $1. That money would be used to reimburse the city for the cost of rebuilding the boardwalk.

But when it came time to formally vote on that fee hike last Tuesday, the commission backed off. The issue will come up again at its May 8 meeting.

City Attorney Michael Connolly was instructed to prepare an ordinance that would levy the entire boardwalk bill on six property owners whose commercial buildings front on the boardwalk. If approved, the bill would appear as a non-ad valorem assessment on their tax bills this fall.

Alternatively, the commission may decide to spread that assessment to all village property owners.

Or, there may be some "blend" of assessments and increased parking meter fees.

"Maybe we should have assessment or combination instead of this (meter fee) increase, " said Commissioner Arnold Alloway.

Whatever the commission's decision, it appears no one will be very happy.

Last week, the commission listened to several residents complaining that using the proposed increased parking fees to pay for the boardwalk reconstruction was unfair.

"I hope you will listen to the taxpayers who elected you, " said Robin Moore. "We are saying we do not want to pay for that new walk. We believe the merchants should be assessed."

Former Commissioner Martha Boos also urged the commission to assess village merchants for the boardwalk cost.

"Frankly, I don't want to pay. The merchants down there should pay, " Boos said.

In contrast, John's Pass Village merchants, none of whom attended last week's commission meeting, are strongly opposed to paying any part of the bill for reconstructing the boardwalk.

Patricia Hubbard, whose family owns property abutting more than 300 feet of the 1, 000-foot-long boardwalk, says the bill is the city's responsibility.

"When the boardwalk was first built, it was written into the grant agreement that it would be the city's responsibility to maintain it in perpetuity. It is not my fault that the boardwalk outlived its life span."

An engineering report received last year said hardware and braces supporting the boardwalk were severely deteriorated and were a "ripping hazard."

The commission then declared the 1970s-era boardwalk unsafe, closed off portions, and fast-tracked its reconstruction. At the time, the commission planned to assess adjacent property owners, a decision that met with sharp opposition.

Nonetheless, the commission unanimously approved a nonbinding resolution in December that called for all costs to be paid through an assessment on property owners, again raising opposition from those property owners.

Reconstruction totaled $697, 772.44. That bill has been paid so far through a combination of a city "loan" and parking meter fees in the John's Pass Village Fund.

Historically, the city has set aside all parking meter money to pay the salaries and materials needed to maintain and refurbish John's Pass Village.

At one point the city tried to get $200, 000 in federal money to pay part of the boardwalk bill, but was recently notified by Rep. Bill Young's office that an earmark appropriation would not be available.

Hubbard, whose family owns a 325-space parking garage that charges $5 a day to village visitors, says merchants are opposed to doubling public parking meter fees.

A lower increase, perhaps another 25 cents, would be all right, she says. "That would be easier to stomach, " Hubbard says.

If the commission decides to assess boardwalk property owners, it must complete the legal process by the end of June in order for it to appear on fall property tax bills.

Some commissioners appear willing to consider delaying the actual billing until next year to allow more time for discussion and feedback from merchants, property owners and citizens.

[Last modified May 1, 2007, 20:47:28]

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