Village of New Paltz board members opted to devote most of their October 16 meeting to talking about parking. New Paltz is a community caught between a push to design a more pedestrian-friendly community and a desire to make it easy for tourists to drive here since their dollars are desired but there’s no convenient public transportation. Trustees spoke among themselves and also with community members in attendance, but left off without committing to any changes in what’s planned for parking management.
Michele Zipp has researched parking practices and perceptions in many communities. One thing she found that leads people to be more supportive is to dedicate parking revenue to particular projects. However, according to Mayor Tim Rogers, parking meter fees and tickets are the second and third highest revenue streams for local government. Rogers is in favor of finding ways to fund public services outside of property taxes, a holdover from feudal systems under which land could be equated with wealth. Rather than burden property owners and their tenants with all the costs when visitors also use services, fees such as the ones charged at meters capture money from different groups of people. To that end, he did not express support for dedicating that money to anything specific. The mayor regularly posts updates on Facebook and through this newspaper providing granular detail about the costs of government, and considers that level of transparency sufficient, perhaps, to deserve the level of support Zipp described.
During the public hearings on Sunday parking fees, Rogers said that $300,000 is about what is brought in annually in this way. Zipp found that the cost of maintaining a parking spot — paving, painting, snow removal, and labor — is about $400; the mayor multiplied that by 262 spaces and pronounced $104,000 a “sound estimate” of that cost. Parking fees have not kept up with those costs: Zipp said that the first meters carried a charge of five cents per hour, in 1935.
Time limits on parking are believed to be an economic and environmental necessity in any community wherein the residents depend on personal motor vehicles. When spots are full, drivers may circle looking for a nearby spot — creating more emissions — or business owners could lose the sale entirely. “There’s got to be a better way to get the turnover we want,” said Deputy Mayor KT Tobin, who believes part of the problem is cultural, insofar as people prefer to “get in the car to go get milk” and compete for the closest possible spot. “There’s always spots at village hall,” she said. “I think it’s a habit thing.” A system of centralized parking, such as a garage, could help change behavior, but is not likely to be affordable in a community this size.
“We have all the challenges a larger city has,” said Rogers, but not nearly as many resources.
As reducing congestion is one of the goals underpinning parking regulation, talks about creating a more inclusive calendar of parking holidays stalled earlier this year. That itself only arose because of a change in the law, passed in 2018, which eliminated the old tradition of free parking on Sundays. While a small number of people expressed opposition at the time, it only became an issue of wider interest when churchgoers got tickets on Palm Sunday this past spring. Rather than appearing to have an Abrahamic bias, trustees sought input on days when parking fees might be suspended. However, suggestions including Halloween, college graduation and Easter run contrary to keeping spots open for the benefit of business owners. Tobin pointed out that the annual holiday shopping free parking declaration similarly undermines that goal. On the other hand, Rogers noted, Christmas is desolate in New Paltz and free parking is thus appropriate. In short, trustees found it wasn’t easy to make a list of free days that was effective, but also felt equitable.
Trustee Alex Wojcik is concerned that all this discussion might yield is reinforcement of auto-centric policies in a community where automobiles by far contribute the most to carbon emissions.
Managing parking is a “series of emergencies” for village employees, according to Rogers. When the Plattekill Avenue lot was converted from free to paid some years ago, trustees at the time decided to put in a central kiosk rather than buying meters for every spot. Its location near the lot’s main entrance has always been problematic; even though it’s not necessary to stop one’s car at the kiosk to pay, many drivers cause backups in that manner. More recently, according to the mayor, jams in the machine have become an increasing headache for users and staff members, whom he said spend part of that time “getting screamed at” by people who just want to park their cars.
A more high-tech solution isn’t yet in the cards, because developers have not yet written a mobile app that fits the criteria trustees are seeking. They include discounted rates for village residents (but not free parking for descendants of the original Huguenot settlers, which is what one person told the mayor would be appropriate), integration with whatever parking kiosk replaces the current one in the Plattekill lot, and some level of privacy protection for people entering credit-card information into the app. The last one considered also carried a per-transaction fee that they found proportionally too high at 40 cents; the mayor doesn’t believe it’s appropriate to absorb that cost as might be done if village government were actually a business. Any app would also have to work seamlessly with the village’s financial software and the system used to generate those parking tickets.
Residents were also given a chance to speak. One topic that arose was about how parking congestion and meters impact adjacent residential neighborhoods. Another was whether it’s a good idea to sell the village lot off North Chestnut Street.
Bakery owner David Santner suggested developing a plan to create a village-wide public-private parking plan with the help of a consultant, but Rogers didn’t seem to grasp the intent. Santner used the Jewish Community Center lots as an example, and the mayor focused on that property. “What’s the task?” he wanted to know of Santner, but the business owner appeared to be suggesting that a data-driven plan be prepared and then used to approach property owners, not the other way around. The mayor said that it’s “hard to put this on us,” meaning village elected officials, but Santner is of the position that this is exactly the type of problem people are elected to address. The mayor redirected Santner by discussing inequities in sales tax revenue-sharing, as New Paltz only gets a fraction of the money paid here but the tourist economy in the county puts strain on local services.
Rogers and Santner also disagree on other questions of the purpose of government. The mayor believes it’s a “responsibility” to make sure village departments bring in more than they cost, but Santner considers them services, such as parks. Rogers is not alone in equating governmental efficiency with profit; Tobin also considers this a priority.
Doubtless parking will continue to be an issue in the village, at least until cars are no longer encouraged for transportation in human society. +