Selectmen greenlight higher RR commuter parking fees
As Westport grapples with mounting parking expenditures, the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday approved a $100 hike in annual permit fees and a $1 increase in daily fees at its Metro-North train station commuter lots.
Annual permits will rise 44 percent from $225 to $325, which corresponds closely with a 47 percent increase in total expenditures by the Police Department's Railroad Parking Fund since the 2004-05 fiscal year. Daily fees will increase from $4 to $5. The local parking fees were last raised in 2004.
"We feel as though we need this to balance out the railroad parking budget, so that it doesn't operate at a deficit," Police Chief Al Fiore said.
The fee increase request from the Police Department highlights the plight of the parking fund. During each of the last four fiscal years, the fund has run a deficit, according to Finance Director John Kondub. For the current fiscal year, the fund has projected expenditures of approximately $1.75 million. The fund, however, will likely collect only about $1.1 million in revenue from parking fees this year. To cover the shortfalls, the town has drawn down the fund's surplus.
The parking fund pays for three full-time police officers as well as part-time work by administrative staff. Personnel costs such as salaries, benefit payments and contributions to employee pension funds have driven a surge in fund outlays, according to Deputy Police Chief Dale Call.
"That's what is killing everybody's budget," he said.
The parking fund, which covers maintenance and security at the commuter lots at the Saugatuck and Green's Farms train stations, has also been hit by rising operational costs. The fund budgets $125,000 for snow removal, but has spent $230,000 this year for that line item.
To close the parking fund's budget deficit, the Police Department originally proposed to raise annual permits by $175 to $400, an increase of almost 80 percent. That plan met with immediate opposition from the three selectmen.
"I reacted negatively to such a large increase," said Selectwoman Shelly Kassen. "I don't want this to fall on the backs of commuters."
Kassen, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff and Selectman Charles Haberstroh agreed, though, that the parking fund's budget imbalance needs to be addressed with higher fees.
But the selectmen could not reach consensus on the exact amount. While Joseloff and Kassen advocated for the $100 increase, Haberstroh proposed to stagger fee hikes by starting with a new permit charge of $300.
"What I'm advocating is that we tell people in advance that we plan to raise these [fees]," he said. "They can make plans, and we can see the reaction of the waiting list."
The town issues almost 4,000 permits for its approximately 1,800 commuter parking spaces. About 2,400 applicants are on the waiting list for annual parking permits, which has an average wait time of four to five years.
But Joseloff and Kassen maintained their position and overrode Haberstroh to vote for the $100 permit increase as well as the $1 daily fee hike.
The selectmen, however, did agree on a plan for the police department to explore changing the hours during which parking fees are issued. Department employees currently issue fees from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., but that schedule may be pushed back. Call said the department will also consider the possibility of charging train passengers for use of the commuter parking lots on Saturdays, but not Sundays.
Public attendance at the meeting was sparse with no one from the public speaking in opposition to the approved fee increases.
"I have no problem with an increase in the fees," said Representative Town Meeting member Dick Lowenstein. "It's still a big bargain."
In comparison, Fairfield charges $340 for an annual permit at the Fairfield Center Metro-North train station.
The new daily fees take effect July 1. The new annual permit fees will affect all permits that expire June 30 or later.