A higher hourly rate of $3 and extended hours on parts of the island are among the changes in parking that the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen will consider in its upcoming annual “retreat” meeting next week.
The parking change proposal come as the town is bracing for revenue shortfalls following a 2018 season that generated a heap of bad weather days, including a hurricane evacuation that left the island desolated for more than a week. In addition to parking revenues being down, the town will also have to contend with sales and hotel tax shortfalls.
Lanier Parking, which operates the town’s operation, presented a series of proposals during the Monday evening board of aldermen meeting, several of which will be considered in more detail and potentially voted upon during the aldermen’s retreat meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 15 at 8:30 a.m..
Most notably, a hike in the rate from $2.50 to $3 would require scrapping as many as 200 “gray” meters used at individual spots across the island. While some metered spots could be converted to pay-by-phone, dozens of spots with gray meters on Waynick Boulevard and North Lumina Avenue would likely need new meters, since signage needed for the pay-by-phone spots could be unsightly on those streets and confusing to parkers. However, the cost to purchase as many as 150 new meters could run between $75,000 and $112,000, depending upon which style of meter the board selects.
Another change under consideration is extending the collection times on Harbor Island and other parts of the island to be consistent with the beachside lots. Parking hours on Old Causeway Drive, Marina and Keel streets, town hall and other areas on Harbor Island could be extended from its current collection schedule of May 1 – Sept. 15, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., to match the March 1 – Oct. 31, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., schedule for beach side parking.
The board may also require that tax decals be purchased along with hanging resident parking passes. Tax decals are legally required but generally only purchased in the event of a storm-related evacuation, such as occurred with Hurricane Florence in 2018, as they are used in the return process to help validate residency. Hanging tags cost $35 and the tax decal is $15 if purchased before April 1 and $30 if bought after.
Additionally, the board may make changes to how it issues commercial passes to local businesses, with the goal of eventually phasing out the passes. Handicapped parking will remain free for those with eligible permits.
With $2.9 million in reported revenue, 2018 parking collections in Wrightsville Beach were down 2.4 percent from 2017 collections and even further off the 2016 high of $3.08 million in revenue. The town had forecast $3.03 million in revenue this year, with collection being 2.9 percent off that goal.
Raising rates to $3 could have a varying impact on revenue, depending on how the increased rates affect demand. With demand unaffected, an island-wide change in rates could boost revenues by as much as $410,000. However, if the higher rates drive down demand by as much as 15 percent, revenue increases could be as low as $41,000.
Revenue collection was partly impacted by the weather, as Lanier Parking said that historic rainfall totals created an unexpected number of “weather days” that impacted parking revenue collection. The nearly 80 inches of rainfall far exceeded the average of 40 inches and soared past the 2017 total of 50 inches.
And while the Hurricane Florence evacuation shuttered the parking operation for nine days in September, a rainy July created 16 weather days, three times higher than the previous July. In fact, every month in 2018 had more weather days than the prior year, with the exception of August.