As a matter of principle, I am opposed to government picking winners and losers. It is for that reason that I opposed the GM bailouts, as well as those that were given to AIG. Similarly, in recent months, Wallingford made a decision for the town to pay for the restructuring and re-paving of the 130 parking spaces in the rear of Simpson Court, and for the following reasons, on November 14th, I am voting "YES" to repeal the parking deal that was recently approved by the Wallingford Town Council.
In addition to the re-paving, the town will also install cobblestoned pavement in the alleyways, decorative lighting, as well as dumpster enclosures, and it would assume the ongoing maintenance of the lot, including trash and snow removal, plus electricity to light the lot, and the property owner's insurance bills for the lot's safety. All of the above, in exchange for a thirty year lease for public parking in the lot, with this municipal parking being limited to four hour slots (for some).
The town has currently committed to expend up to $500,000.00 for the above, that figure having doubled in just the past two years (as recently as 2008 the estimated costs were only $250,000.00).
Yes, the plan would more than likely be of benefit to the merchants in Simpson Court, however, here comes the rub: while privately owned by four entities, the property owners are not paying anything for the improvements to their property; there are no additional spots being added to the lot (which is already being fully used); and the property owners are being given 90 passes to be given to people of their choosing that exempt the holder from the four hour parking restriction (the town is not monitoring to whom the passes are being given). Additionally, the town is prohibited from metering the lot so as to re-coup their expenses from the actual users.
Please note that all of this has occurred while the Wooding Caplan property (one that the town actually owns) remains vacant, overrun by weeds, virtually unlit, marked by ditches that used to be potholes, and the town was recently forced to sell the American Legion Building right next to the Town Hall because it could not find the approximately $25,000.00 to fix the roof and to repaint it.
It is true that the funds for the initial infrastructure improvements come from a fund that is held by the town, paid by the electric division in lieu of taxes, that can only be used for capital projects. However, in my opinion, that is just a "shell game" as this past year, as well as last, there were capital projects in the town budget that could have been paid for with the funds that are being expended on this project. In both of the past years, there were tax increases to pay for those capital projects.
In fact, this year it is estimated that the town will be issuing bonds for in excess of 25 million dollars for new school roofs. The annual interest alone on this project will be about $500,000.00 (the amount that is being expended on this project, with no financial buy in by the property owners).
The property owners have countered with threats that, unless the town redoes their lot, that they will shut it down to municipal traffic. In my opinion, while they threaten to become the manufacturers of tumbleweeds, the same property owners would be shooting themselves in the foot.
In order to operate a business, a merchant needs a certain amount of parking. In order to continue to rent to their merchant tenants, the property owners would have to allow someone to use the lot. In order to come through with their threat the property owners would have to monitor the lot for those parking there that were not patronizing the owner’s property. I highly doubt that that would ever happen.
Here, the property owners are stating that they are in the center of town, and therefore that they deserve preferential treatment. Maybe that is true. However, in many other towns, those who demand preferential treatment pay higher taxes. It is for that reason that other towns have downtown tax zones. While I am not in favor of such a proposition, I can see how they come about, especially when private property owners try to hold their own town hostage.
I have proposed that the property owners contribute a portion of funds for the initial infrastructure improvements. My suggestion has been $50,000.00 liens on their properties, payable when the properties are sold or ten years (whichever comes sooner), accruing interest at 4.5% per year. That, in my opinion would be at least somewhat fair.
The cost savings to the town could be put into improving the Wooding Caplan property for increased parking in our downtown. In my opinion, that would be of best benefit to the town of Wallingford. Additionally, the parking passes should be issued by the town to the individual users. It is not the re-doing of the parking lot that I object to, rather it is the deal that has been struck. Therefore, on November 14th I will be voting "YES" to repeal the terms of the current lease as, next time, it needs to be negotiated with the whole of the town of Wallingford in mind.