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Parking rate increase mulled

Fort Myers Beach Councilmember Bill Veach proposes raising hourly rate from $3 to $5

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Sep 14, 2021

Town of Fort Myers Beach municipal parking lots like this one between Matanzas on the Bay and Nervous Nellie's will cost $5 an hour to park at beginning Jan. 1., up from $3 an hour. / Photo by Nathan Mayberg

Town of Fort Myers Beach Councilmember Bill Veach proposed raising the rates at the town’s parking lots from $3 an hour to $5 an hour at the council’s most recent meeting. Three of the five councilmembers expressed general support for the concept though Councilmember Jim Atterholt expressed concerns about the timing one week before adopting the town’s budget without further study.

The proposed rate hike would only extend to the parking spaces controlled by the town – and not to private or county lots. The town currently has 349 parking spaces it charges for, with about 25 more spaces to be set aside for weekend parking at town hall.

Veach would like to use potential windfalls from a rate hike to fund projects such as affordable housing, a new parking app and potential cost overruns with the town’s planned renovation projects. Those projects include Bayside Park, Bay Oaks and Times Square, which may need to be scaled down due to rising construction costs unless the town raises taxes or finds new revenue, Veach suggested.

Veach cited Sanibel’s parking rate of $5 an hour though he also noted Lee County charges $2 an hour.

“I don’t really know why Fort Myers Beach should be the least expensive game in town – why we should be the Dollar Store of the Southwest Florida beaches,” Veach said. “I think that we provide a value.”

Town of Fort Myers Beach Town of Fort Myers Beach parking spaces like these located between Matanzas on the Bay and Nervous Nellie's will cost $5 an hour to park at beginning Jan. 1., up from $3 an hour. / Photo by Nathan Mayberg

Veach said the town currently earns about $1.1 million a year from its parking spaces. “If you assume a 5-10% reduction because of people’s reaction to the increase in parking (rates), it would still yield us a good $500,000 a year,” Veach said.

Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros is open to the idea. “I’m not against raising the parking,” Hosafros said. “I’ve always thought our parking has been inexpensive.” She compared Fort Myers Beach to Sanibel by noting the toll people pay to go onto the island, not counting higher parking rates.

Councilmember Dan Allers said he “wouldn’t be opposed” to a parking meter hike and said Veach made “some good points” though he said he wanted to hear more from the public. Allers said he wasn’t prepared to approve it Thursday without public comment.

Atterholt said he supported a new parking app that would include private and public parking lot data, but said more studies were needed to determine the cost of the app as well as a cost/benefit analysis for the impact of a parking rate increase. “I have a hard time raising the fee without having a plan,” Atterholt said. “It’s so much better to sell the public on these types of fee increases.” Atterholt thinks a parking app could help with traffic congestion but wants to explore the cost first.

Atterholt said raising parking fees one week before the final vote on the budget was “a bit premature at least from my perspective. I do like the approach.”

Veach said he did agree that the council’s budget meeting Thursday was a little close to the planned adoption of a new budget for a week later on Thursday, Sept. 16.

Town Manager Roger Hernstadt suggested waiting until the beginning of 2022 to institute an increase.

Veach is hopeful an increase in the town’s parking rate could lead to more car pooling and that a parking application could lead to less cars driving around to find parking.

Hernstadt said expanding a parking app to real-time software for all of the town’s lots and private lots would require sensors and executing agreements with private vendors to place sensors at all of the town’s parking spaces. Hernstadt believes a parking meter hike could increase revenue though he didn’t think it would decrease traffic to the beach.

Mayor Ray Murphy asked Hernstadt if the town was “below the market” and if its parking rates “are a bargain.” Hernstadt said the town “tries to keep our costs low” through fees such as parking rates. Hernstadt said the town’s parking meters are one of the few ways the town government earns revenue from visitors to the town to help offset the impact on services.

Veach said the town’s businesses generate about $10 million in sales tax revenue a year while about $600,000 of that is returned to the town. “We are generating a lot of money – there are truckloads of money going off the island and a MINI Cooper of money is coming back,” he said.