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A History of Parking Rates, Commuters, and Croton

April 20, 2007

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Commuters who use the Croton Harmon Station lot have been upset lately about the steep increase in parking fees. Who blames them? The lot still floods. Traffic is still snarls. The June 2007 hike is the second, steep rate increase in three years.

The Croton Harmon parking lot clearly needs ongoing infrastructure investments to remain a transportation asset for the region and, hence, a fiscal asset for the village. More importantly, this transit hub could be an economic lever for Croton, well beyond simple parking fees, but will not if the simple parking fees irritate the village’s customer base.

Why are Croton’s station parking fees going up so much? During the April 9, 2007 public hearing on the Croton’s budget, the mayor stated, “We do look at it as business and unfortunately we do have to raise rates.”

Since the cost of operating the parking lot has not gone up, an increase in some other “business” must dictate a parking rate hike.

Quite a few commuters spoke up in protest that night over the disconnect between a rate hike and lack of improvements at the lot. One non-resident responded to the mayor with, “If it is run as a business, it is not run very well. Why not hire the engineers and raise the rates after you have done something. I run a business, before I raise rates, I raise service level. You guys don’t do that.”

What is the recent history of parking rates? The village purchased the current parking lot in pieces from private hands in the early 1990s. Back then, the overall lot held fewer cars and the eastern section offered parkers a sea of mud. Flood waters reached greater depths than now—hard as that may be to believe.

Upon consolidating its ownership of the lot, Croton undertook a series of improvements such as raising the elevation of the most flood-prone area, adding curbs and drains, and staffing a daytime office to help parkers. The village also worked to have County Bee Line buses stop in front of the station, rather than skip the station as they used to.

For several years up to May 2001, the parking lot generated circa $1.5 million in revenue for the village with monthly permit fees set at $36 for residents, $54 for non-residents, and $3.50 for daily users. The lots can hold a capacity of circa 2,500 cars.

The village had undertaken a series of upgrades, such as repaving of the daily lot, better signage, restriping, more frequent litter pickups, and improved drainage for what is now Veterans Way. In June 2001, the village raised fees to $40 (11%) for residents and $70 (a whopping 30%) for non-residents and $4 (12.5%) for daily passes to help fund the ongoing improvements. The income from the lot rose to $1.76 million for the fiscal year ending May 2002.

In aftermath of 9/11 and the new Cortlandt Station lot opening, the Croton Harmon lot experienced a slight decline in the number of commuters. Annual parking revenue fell slightly over the next 2 fiscal years to $1.70 million through May of 2004. Letting the market and demographics take their course, the village chose not to raise parking rates, except to raise the daily lot rate to $5 in June 2004.

Indeed, train commuters did return in sizable numbers. By late 2004, a waiting list developed again for monthly parking permits in Croton. The village restriped the lot to increase the number of spaces available for monthly permit holders by decreasingly slightly the size of the daily lot. The Village instituted a new quarterly permit to alleviate the hassle of swapping window permits each month and to foil counterfeiters.

As more commuters moved off the waiting list to buy monthly permits, the same fee structure of $40-$70 monthly set three years earlier produced a new high of $1.98 million in parking revenue by May 2005, the close of the fiscal year.

From 1993-2004, the cost of actual improvements drove parking rate hikes. But that connection of rate hike for better service ceased in June 2005. Prior to 2005, any surplus from parking lot income helped pay for improvements at the lot itself and significant other public investments, such as the Village ‘s purchase of Croton Landing waterfront north of the Yacht Club. In short, all commuters could and did benefit from all the projects that parking income helped fund. Until June 2005.

In June 2005, the parking rates rose to $45 per month (+13%) for residents, $78 (+11%) for non-residents, while remaining at $5 for daily users. This time, no improvements took place at the parking lot. In fact, the new administration put construction plans on ice that would have improved traffic, even as the new 2005 rates took effect.

The result was instructive for the village. Parking lot income in fiscal 2005-2006 actually fell slightly under these new rates, down to $1.95 million. For the fiscal year that ends May 31, 2007, parking income may—or may not—recover to what it was prior to the 2005 rate hike.

On June 1, 2007, the second parking rate increase in three years will take effect: $50 monthly (+11%) for residents, $86 (+10%) for non-residents, and $6 (+20%) for daily passes. The fee schedule is booked on a quarterly basis, so that translates into $150 for residents ($600 per year) and $258 for non-residents ($1032 per year). No upgrades at the lot took place in the past year, nor are any planned for the next 12 months.

Under these new rates, the village projects parking lot revenue for fiscal 2007-2008 to rise by circa $330,000 to $2.3 million. Of course, when the village’s parking rates went up without lot improvements in 2005, actual parking revenue fell short of the projection and even short of matching the pre-hike income.

By coincidence, the Village’s new budget earmarks nearly the same large amount for outside legal fees ($360,000) as the parking rate hike is projected to add to income ($330,000). The 1A Croton Point Avenue waste transfer station consumes the largest slice of the Village’s legal expenses. For the past two fiscal years, this court battle has cost the village between $250,000 and $300,000 per year for attorneys’ fees.

Are the parking permit hikes outstripping the general inflation rate? Between May 2005 and June 2007, The US Consumer Price Index was under 4% inflation per year for New York. Even cumulative inflation is twice what the CPI captures, the Croton Harmon parking permit rate will still have raced well ahead with a cumulative 25% for Village residents and 26% for non-residents in those two years.

Will the parking rate hike be used for the parking lot improvements? No capital improvements at the lot have been funded for the coming fiscal year. The Village has hired a good consultant to study options for mitigating the periodic floods at the parking lot. This preliminary work is being funded with an earlier unspent public transportation grant for which the parking improvement plans were mothballed in June 2005. Hence, no current parking income is needed to pay for these preliminary engineering options.

How important is parking lot revenue to Croton? From 1998 to 2005 the parking lot income produced about half of all non-property tax revenue in Croton. The net effect of the parking lot revenue on the Croton’s property tax base is best understood by subtraction. If the parking lot revenue did not exist, property taxes would be at least 15% higher overnight. If parking revenue in the next fiscal year falls short of $2.3 million, then somebody will have to make up the difference. Who?

Leo Wiegman

Editor’s Note: The author is a former Village of Croton-on-Hudson Trustee who served three terms from 2001 to 2007.

On April 30, 2007 3:50 PM, Just The Facts said:

Does it bother anyone else that for the first time in a year Mayor Schmidt came down last month to the Croton Parking Lot to campaign for votes and completely failed to mention that he was planning on socking it to commuters once again (he is two for two on raising parking fees upon getting elected).

Eve, I don’t know how often you get down to the lot, but I think it is pretty safe to say the village is making quite a bundle off the parking lot. Maintenance? Please, they haven’t done a damn thing in that lot for at least two years. Yes they plow (and I am told they treat weeds), but there is no way that costs anywhere near what they bring in.

As far as bringing in an outsider to run it? Yeah that makes alot of sense, share this revenue with an outsider so when the Mayor decides he needs more money for litigaation, rates would have to go up even more.

I sure hope two years from now when the lot is still in deplorable conditions and residents are paying $50 per month to park there, that they remember what Mayor Schmidt and his administration have done for Croton parkers down at the lot.

On April 24, 2007 2:05 PM, weewill said:

This has been an enlightening debate on some of the pros and cons surrounding the parking lot and its issues. Please don’t let it deteriorate into the hateful name calling and closed minded exchanges so often present in the past political campaign. That’s behind us now and the Republicans overwhelmingly defeated the Dems. The voters have spoken and it’s time to move on as best we can with the realities of where we are in the village today.

Devil’s Advocate, I think it would be good and healthy to “drill down into parking lot economics.” We have a real history now after the past decade upon which to build this study. Actuals can be studied and assessed in order to make good decisions for the future. What have we done that we shouldn’t have done (those awful looking signs??) and what have we not done that we should have done?

Oldtimer, your comments re the finances are well taken. Where do we really sit with regard to other public parking lots, use and needs? What are the disadvantages of having 2000 cars coming in and going out of the lot every single day? How much air pollution, idling and negative impact is created by this heavy load. More, less, or insignificant impact on the air we breath from the idling diesels, highway traffic and the waste transfer operation?

Waffels, you’re absolutely correct. Any of this information should be (and I believe is available) for public review. Obviously it won’t all be in one spot and may take time to compile. So many cross sections of village operations are involved, numbers would have to be pulled together. (Everything from expenses, revenue, labor, burden, maintenance, repair, administration, debt service, etc. all need to be factored in. Add to this list all the things Lady Eve has mentioned and we would have a more complete picture. Extra work, of course; but worth it, I think so.

It may be timely for that additional analysis now. It’s definitely time to begin listening to each other and to take the good from both sides of the arguments.

Georgianna

On April 24, 2007 11:28 AM, waffels said:

The Lady Eve…….wow…pretty obnoxious post…you sound like you know quite a bit about what’s going on with village accounting….do you have facts or just opinion………..please do tell

On April 24, 2007 11:04 AM, TeaDrinker said:

Waffels suggestion above that Devil’s Advocate could find detailed information about Croton’s parking-lot accounting by foiling the village shows that once more she just doesn’t get it.

Devil’s Advocate’s whole point was that the village does not charge against parking lot receipts all the many services rendered by village employees, such as cleaning, snow plowing, maintenance, garbage collection and other expenses (employee benefits, security, insurance, etc.). These are expenses private enterprise would incur and would have to pay. Thus, the village is artificially inflating the parking lot’s profitability.

Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and SEC attorneys have put corporate executives in prison for cooking the books the way Croton is doing. One could foil the village from now to next Christmas and never get such numbers because they simply do not exist. His point is that the parking lot is getting a free ride on the village’s books. And doing this violates every principle of responsible accounting. It’s bad enough that the village has created an asset unsalable so long as the lot floods catastrophically, no potential buyer would touch it with the kinds of P & L (profit and loss) statement and balance sheet the village would present.

Listen, girl, you were wrong in defending Ann Gallelli’s failed “gateway” planning with your ridiculous charge that it kept the village from becoming another Central Avenue. Now you again reveal your lack of understanding with this silly advice to Devil’s Advocate. For a change, why don’t you get your facts straight about municipal planning or accounting before breaking into print as an expert?

On April 23, 2007 7:29 PM, Gut-C said:

Mr. Wiegman should have used this as a campaign platform. If more topics like this were discussed BEFORE voters went to the polls, there would have been a much larger voter turnout and the results would have been much different. One day candidates will learn that voters are smart and connected and concerned. And not just about front page news, but about what happens every day as they go to work and pay bills and worry that their kids will be better off than they are right now. Too little too late - again!

On April 23, 2007 7:18 PM, waffels said:

DA……I believe most of your questions can be answered via public information…I imagine the village has the parking lots expenses and costs available for viewing directly and if not then through a foil request…….the way I have always understood it the lot is a positive money maker for the village.

On April 23, 2007 7:06 PM, TeaDrinker said:

Diogenes, put out your lantern. You can quit your search. Croton has at last found an honest man. Going by the cognomen of “Devil’s Advocate,” he is someone with the courage to ask, “What is a village like Croton doing in the parking lot business?” And “When standard accounting procedures are applied, are we really making the handsome profits claimed?”

Most communities with stations along the Metro North line offer parking as a low-cost convenience for commuters. But money-hungry Croton gouges both residents and nonresidents alike in a foolish quest for greater and greater profits. Yes, I said “gouge,” meaning to coerce, squeeze, extort, shake down or unfairly wring monies from customers.

Want proof that parkers at the Croton station are being gouged by greedy, money-grubbing Croton officials? Consider this: A commuter can park at the Cortlandt station for three months for the same money Croton charges a nonresident for one month and for less than it charges a resident parker for two months. And they will get better service to boot. Moreover, Cortlandt doesn’t discriminate between residents and nonresidents.

The Schmidt administration makes a big fuss about the dangers of trucks at an adjoining waste transfer station yet encourages thousands of automobiles to invade the same neighborhood daily. By all means, let us examine the economics of this white elephant of a parking lot and the village’s motives in continuing to operate it. I can only echo the question of Devil’s Advocate, “What the hell are we doing in the parking lot business?”

Keep up the good work, Devil’s Advocate. Your probing comments and questions are a breath of fresh air.

On April 22, 2007 7:44 PM, Devil's Advocate said:

I am interested in drilling down into parking lot ecomonics far beyond revenue generation. If we quantify the cost of village employees time (not just those whose primary focus is working at the lot, but ALL village employees that spend any time at all on lot related issues) and then add in snow plowing, maintenance, monitoring weather patterns, redirecting traffic, consulting and engineering fees, lost tax revenue from private ownership and development, etc. I am absolutely sure this parking lot’s NET PROFITS are not that good.

Why are we in the so called “business” of running a parking lot at all? Where in the village charter does it say the Village Trustees should be running a quasi “private enterprise”. What private or public corporation could get away with spending revenue (NOT PROFITS SINCE THAT TERM IS NEVER USED) to offset taxes and fund completely unrelated project with no consequences?

The village should seek professional parking lot management firms such as Meyers or ICON Parking to buy or lease the property from the village and run it professionally.

By moving to private ownership, we can cut village manpower and benefit costs, operating costs, loose a major headache and get down to more pressing business.

On April 20, 2007 2:27 PM, weewill said:

Thanks so much Leo. This is exactly the kind of detailed explanation and summary needed to understand just some of the complexities of the flooding situation and fees associated with the parking lot. To suggest that nothing has been done over the years is untrue and not the least bit helpful in contributing to the continuing efforts to solve this very real problem. Much has been attempted and much more will be attempted.

For this present board to promise “It will be fixed” and to even suggest “it will be fixed this year” is pure posturing and fiction. It’s like promising Mr. Rondthaler to “look into” allowing two-way traffic through the picture tunnel. What we want and what we get are not always compatible.

It’s been suggested that it MIGHT be fixed with 5, 6, or 7 million dollars but no promises or assurances will be given by the professionals studying the problem. MIGHT being the key word here! With everything considered there are still many, many unknowns!

So thanks, Leo, for the straight facts. Your extraordinary ability to analyze and face facts will be sorely missed on the board.

Georgianna



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