What, our town is called Freeport? Coulda fooled me!
|I know; it's hard to tell what it is.|
A few days ago a little internet controversy came to my attention as it was asserted that the Village had installed Rockville Center-style "Munimeters" in its municipal parking lots. This was sort of a surprise to me, seeing as I live two blocks from one, so I decided to stop by after work. Sure enough, I was greeted with sights like the above, and the below.
Now, I've checked at all four lots down on the Nautical Mile and can confirm they exist, there; I haven't checked up north due two working two jobs and all, while also having the Human weaknesses of needing to eat and sleep. There are also no meters (yet) on the streets in that neighborhood. Wow. Where do I begin? Normally, it'd be with some words from Mayor Kennedy, but unlike former Mayor Hardwick he didn't respond to my message. (Is this a good thing? Judging from the past could be.) Instead, let's jump into the debate!
To Tax, or to tax differently.
Let's ignore, for a moment, Freeport's history as a rum-running capital, and/or it's history as a free port (which, according to The Economist, is a booming business!), and/or the fact that these areas were just a year ago devastated by Hurricane Sandy. And, it's no secret that facilities like Braccos were charging upwards of $20/night for parking, but that's parking on-site in a heavily monitored lot. Let's look at this in a purely economic standpoint: Does this make sense?
Well, these parking lots were built with Taxpayer money. Sea Breeze especially is a recently-constructed facility. Therefore, Freeporters have paid to have them developed. We'll touch more into the fairness of this later, but does it make sense - economically - to recuperate losses? Well...No. Not in my view. Here's why!
One of the huge advantages Freeport had going into the post-Sandy recovery was that The Mile's nearest major competitor, in terms of night-life and restaurants, is Rockville Center. Let me tell you a little secret: I hate me some RVC. I despise it. I hate going there because of one simple reason: I can never find parking, and I pay through my bum for what little I can find. I don't just dislike the town, but I actually actively avoid going there. When I have a choice between doctors' appointments at an RVC or a Merrick one, I go with Merrick 100% of the time. If I had to go to Bellmore or even Wantagh, I'd be in for that. Why? Parking, pure and simple. I know many, many others who feel the same way.
Now, The Mile is not exactly a year-round place. Many establishments aren't even open year-round, but those which are? They became home. Jeremy's Ale House in particular, but also places like Bamboo (which I recently had the pleasure of dining at!) and, during its pre-Wet days, a place once called Splash as well as Hurricane Charlie's. These were my spots, and I loved going there. Why? At least in the winter, parking was virtually automatic! Show up, park, eat, leave! Why is this complicated?
If you don't think this will effect where people dine, or how much they spend, think again. It's $7 for a 14 hour parking slip. That's not a terrible price, but it is the price of a drink and/or an appetizer. That's $7 I had to buy myself an order of boneless wings at Jeremy's. Well, even if I only spend half of that, that's an order of boneless wings I'm no longer buying. That's money the Village gets...But Jeremy's doesn't! Now, isn't that lame? Speaking of money Jeremy's doesn't get, consider the employees of the place! Your average eight hour shift is $4 in parking money every day, meaning $20/week. That doesn't sound like much, but think about it this way: Would you be cool paying an extra $20/week on parking, no matter how much you earn? Or, as an employer, would you be happy to pay all of your employees an extra $20 for the privilege of paying the Village to come in and enable commerce?
The main argument I've heard in favor of these Munimeters (Punymeters, really; these guys are small!) is that they will help make sure we don't get a tax increase in the immediate future. That's really the idea, right? Increase revenue without raising taxes on home-owners? But, at least for the businesses, employees, and visitors to these businesses? Isn't the process I explained above the textbook definition of a tax, at least in terms of the "chilling" effect on commerce that taxes cause?
Here's the bottom line: This is a tax on Freeporters. It's not a direct tax levy, performed by - say - raising the commercial rate. It's instead placed upon the employees and patrons. Sometimes that "broadens" the tax base by taxing non-residents indirectly, but it's certainly a mistake. If the commercial aspects don't convince you this was a mistake, let's present another...
These Munimeters may cost lives.
|Because we needed a fun picture, courtesy of Superheroden.|
As someone who lives only a few blocks away, I cannot tell you how many times I have had friends (not recently, but during my college days. I had those - we were all young, once) call me up and offer a more vulgar variant of, "Hey, Jesse, I got pretty messed up last night. I took a cab home, then left my car at the Mile, can you pick me up and drop me off at it?" It was always in the back of peoples' minds: Leave your car because it costs you nothing. Now, it costs you a parking ticket! Impaired people may weigh the consequences quite differently; the results may be disastrous.
I know that sounds like a reach, but DWI is one of the leading killers in this country. Most accidents happen within a few miles of one's house. I'd post links, but I don't feel like google-searching. Why not? Because I am a busy person, and I choose to be lazy with things that are well-established facts both statistically and empirically. Just like drunk people say, "Ehhh, it's only one time, and I'm not that drunk."
Now, on to what I like to offer - some kind of reasonable solution to a problem that shouldn't exist in the first place!
How to fix the Munimeter problem.
So, with all of these in mind, let's boil our situation down to a simple question: How do we square the desire to increase income with the prospect of increasing costs on Freeport residents and businesses? After all, it's not like we Freeporters haven't already paid for our parking spots by paying the tax dollars that built them, right?
Well, some of the costs to residents - besides direct financial loss - are fairly clear: Increased competition for parking spots on streets will cost locals room they need for their guests or to park. It's already bad, but now it's worse. More travelers up and down the mile might stray onto their property and cause damage or leave litter behind. The roads, driven more, will acquire more damage faster. Hmm. Seems like we're focused on the residents, now, but the same applies to businesses...Wait! I got it!
The answer which jumps out immediately at me is simple, and ironically is stolen from Rockville Center's system and then improved upon! We need a Resident/Employee permit. Follow me, here: RVC has plenty of spaces which are reserved for "Resident/Employee" permits. These spaces cannot be "rented," but instead it falls upon people to find Munimeter-capable spots. During business hours, this leads to massive areas of empty concrete and a few crowded, overtaxed publicly-available spots.
Freeport needs to adopt a system wherein residents mail in their license plates along with a photocopy of their drivers' license and/or registration slips. For security purposes, we could compromise and say that initial permit granting requires an in-person appearance at Village Hall. These permits are renewed every year. Employee verification requires an official letter of some sort from a business, and must again be renewed yearly. Allow me to emphasize that this permit would be absolutely, 100% free to qualified candidates. This will stress business owners out a little bit, will require some effort on behalf of the Village (surely costing no more than they will earn in new parking tickets) and is an inconvenience for residents; on the other hand, non-resident visitors will kick a little bit of extra cash up, reducing the need for tax-payers to up their direct contributions. There, problem solved!
Or, y'know, we just scrap the Munimeters because all it sounds like they're doing is reducing the appeal that Freeport has to non-residents.
The Weekly Freeporter is produced by Jesse Pohlman. Jesse is a writer from Freeport, NY. If you have some time, check out his five-star rated novel, Physics Incarnate, available in both Kindle and Paperback formats!
Thank you for reading!
Editorial note: I also happen to work at Randall Park over the summer; I've lost two car mirrors while parked on the street (no, the Village will not reimburse me), and I am now one of those being forced to pay in order to park and work. Just thought I'd mention this somewhere for journalistic integrity; seeing as I also live in the area, and will likely see increased numbers of people parked on my road? Neat, huh?