City Council members said their reservations over doubling parking meter rates were not enough to stop them from supporting the 2013 municipal budget.
Council on Wednesday night voted unanimously to adopt the $31.4 million spending plan, which holds the line on real estate taxes, while at the same time including a jump in hourly parking meter rates from 50 cents to one dollar.
Councilman Jeff Warren said that while he felt doubling the parking meter rates was “a bit too harsh,” the overall budget’s “positives greatly outweighed the negatives,” including not increasing real estate taxes, sewer rates and trash fees, while “responsibly addressing the needs in our departments."
The approved $1 per hour parking meter rate represents a jump from Mayor Sal Panto’s original plan to increase hourly rates to 75 cents when the preliminary 2013 city budget was unveiled in early-October. The main goal of the increase is to create a dedicated funding stream for the Greater Easton Development Partnership (GEDP), whose main programs include the Easton Main Street Initiative, center square farmers’ market and Ambassadors effort to improve the cleanliness and safety of the downtown.
City officials had appeared to be set with the 75-cent increase until being barraged with unforeseen sewer utility expenses totaling $160,000. Instead of increasing sewer rates or cutting into discretionary funding such as the GEDP, City Finance Director Chris Heagele said the administration preferred to use an additional $100,000 generated from a $1 hourly meter rate and a $60,000 bump in shared Sands casino revenue to offset the sewer utility expenses.
Councilwoman Elinor Warner said of the decision to double parking meter rates: “I’m not happy about going to a dollar. On the other hand, I understand why we’re doing it and I don’t know what the alternative would be.”
Warner said she had hoped for more time to review the $1 increase, but noted the limited schedule in adopting the budget before year’s end. The proposal to go to $1 was made about a month ago.
In the end, Warner noted the greater importance of holding the line on taxes. “Meters are for users, who can decide whether they want to use them.”
In a related discussion during Wednesday’s meeting, the mayor gave preliminary budget projections for following year, 2014, as required by the city charter.
Like 2013, Panto said he is expecting real estate taxes, trash fees and sewer rates to remain the same. A 2 percent increase in water rates is anticipated. For 2014, the city is anticipating receiving $800,000 from Sands casino game table revenue. Easton, as the county seat, was included as one of the municipalities to receive revenue generated by the casino.