Parking rates increasing next week in Oxford Borough
● By Steven Hoffman
Oxford Borough is about to raise the rates for parking at metered spaces from 25 cents for an hour to 25 cents for 15 minutes. The new rates are effective on July 1 for most of the metered spaces in the borough.
Oxford Borough Council approved the new rates by a vote of 4-1 at a meeting earlier this month. The new rates are part of a larger effort to revamp parking throughout the borough. The biggest part of this effort is a proposed parking garage that would add more than 300 spaces to Oxford's commercial district. A parking committee is currently working on evaluating all the parking that's available in the borough, with the goal of maximizing the spaces for both businesses and residents.
Some concerns were raised about the increase in parking rates—that they could actually discourage shoppers from visiting the businesses in the commercial district, that they would impact the poor and the elderly the most, and that the increase is simply too large at one time. But borough officials said that the new rates are necessary—and more in line with what other boroughs of Oxford's size charge for parking.
“One dollar an hour is really a minimal amount,” said Oxford Borough manager Brian Hoover.
During the discussions about parking that have taken place over several months, Hoover has stated several times that charging 25 cents an hour to park is essentially providing free parking. But that parking isn't really free because it always costs money to maintain those spaces. Hoover explained that right now the meters in the borough generate about $34,000 in revenues annually—but it actually costs the borough about $65,000 each year to maintain those spaces. So borough residents make up the difference, subsidizing the costs of parking in the downtown through the taxes that they pay.
As borough council discussed the proposed parking rate increases at its June 19 meeting, council member Sue Lombardi pointed out that people who are parking for only a few minutes won't really see any increase at all because the quarter that they would put in the meter will still allow them to run errands that take 15 minutes or less.
Lombardi said that the new rates will impact people who have more lengthy visits to town—perhaps eating lunch at the Sawmill Grill or meeting a friend at Flickerwood Wine Cellars—but at $1 per hour the cost is still reasonable.
Hoover agreed with Lombardi's points. “There's no true increase until you're sitting down for a lunch,” he said.
But council member Peggy Ann Russell, who opposed the rate increases, said that she was worried about the impact the higher rates would have on local residents.
“We have a lot of residents who can't afford to pay that dollar,” Russell said.
Resident James Sumner, a former council member himself, also expressed concerns that the increase is so large—it will cost for times as much to park in the borough when the new rates go into effect.
Randy Teel, a longtime business owner and former council member, said that some businesses will be hurt and could lose customers as a result of the parking rate increases.
Council member Randy Grace disagreed. Like Teel, he owns a business in town. He said that he has had several people come into his store and say that they can't believe that the borough only charges 25 cents for a full hour of parking.
Ultimately, council approved the new rates.
More changes related to parking in the borough are on the way. Several of the smaller parking lots that are in the business district should soon have kiosks to make it easier for people to pay for parking. There will be two kiosks in what is now the BB & T Bank parking lot, and another kiosk will be used for both of the two smaller parking lots near the intersection of Third Street and Broad Street.
Additionally, borough officials are at work on developing a new, comprehensive parking ordinance. A residential parking district is being formed for residents who live outside the business improvement district. Free parking permits will be offered to residents. The goal is to prevent people from parking in the residential areas to avoid paying for parking in the metered lots and spaces that are in the downtown. Ultimately, if a parking garage is constructed, the hope is that the business owners and their employees, and residents who live above the businesses will utilize the parking garage or metered lots, freeing up spaces in front of stores for customers.