Passaic looks to boost parking revenue, cut free parking

Hungry for money, the city is considering a plan to dramatically increase the number of parking meters and their hours of operation and to eliminate free parking on Sunday.
passaic012912parking_dngnk.jpgThe cash-strapped Passaic Parking Authority has recommended installing parking meters outside the local campus of Passaic County Community College and a section of Third Ward Memorial Park on Benson Avenue two areas that draw hordes of daily commuters. The parking authority also wants to expand daily meter enforcement by two hours to 8 p.m. and eliminate traditionally free Sunday parking altogether.

The recommendations were forwarded last week to the City Council, which governs the parking authority and will decide what changes, if any, to make. A committee comprised of City Council members Terrence L. Love, Zaida Polanco and Hector C. Lora has been set up to consider the changes.

Everything is on the table and no decision has been made, Lora said. Before we do anything, we will listen to the residents because they are our first priority.

The parking authority, despite an aggressive ticket-writing campaign, is running in the red and expected to rack up a $130,000 deficit in its $1.1 million budget by the time the fiscal year ends on June 30.

The authority was supposed to operate on a break-even basis when it was created in 2006. If the recommendations become law, Passaic would become the first city in North Jersey to require commuters to plunk quarters into a meter on Sunday. Paterson, Jersey City, Hackensack and Hoboken all have free parking on Sunday.

Ted Evans, the executive director of the parking authority, said the shortfall is due mainly to a drop in the amount of money collected from parking fines. Passaic collected $569,600 in fines in the 2010 budget year, but only $469,000 last year. I guess people are paying more attention to the meter, Evans said. The trend is toward less revenue being generated through parking fines.

The City Council created the parking authority in 2006 as a way to close a $2 million budget gap. The parking authority floated $2.95 million in bonds to buy seven parking lots from the city. The debt isnt scheduled to be paid off until 2019.

For students, installing meters at Passaic County Community College was about as popular an idea as raising tuition.

Marco Cordova, 20, the vice president of the Student Government Association, said a lot of students already have trouble affording the $100-per-credit tuition cost, and he cringed at the thought of having to run out of class to feed the meter.

Were students and were part of the community, Cordova said. If anything, youd think the city would be a little flexible with us.

Passaics downtown merchants have frequently complained that aggressive meter enforcement was hurting them as well as their businesses. Many merchants park downtown and have to pump quarters into the meter all day. In November, the parking authority began offering yearly parking permits for $2,400, but many merchants said that was too expensive.

Mohammed Hamed works at Magic Sneaker full time and spends nearly $50 a week feeding the meter. That means a lot when youre working at minimum wage, he said.

I have to pay just to come to work, Hamed said. A parking ticket costs $28 and when you make $7.50 an hour, thats a lot of money.

Down the street, Howard Kang said he was closing his shoe store located at 222 Main Ave. after being open for just one year. Kang, a native of South Korea, said business had always been slow. The economy, he said, is bad, but the parking situation downtown is real, real bad.

Business has not been good since I got here and changing the parking will not be good, he said.

City Council President Gary S. Schaer said hes heard the complaints coming from merchants and said the council is sensitive to them.

I know everyone is broke, Schaer said. But the parking authority is running a deficit. What were trying to do is put together a cohesive parking plan.
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