In the five years since the city began charging people to park along the seawall, the program has generated a little more than $3 million in revenue, of which a little more than $1.3 million has been banked in a reserve meant to pay for more improvements, according to officials and records.
How the money has been spent is a topic of discussion among many islanders as the program’s 2020 sunset deadline approaches, meaning voters could be asked next year to extend the program and raise the parking fee from $1 to $2 an hour.
Since its inception in 2013, the program has generated about $3.4 million in total revenue, according to city and Galveston Park Board of Trustees records.
The city in 2014 handed over maintenance and operation of the program to the park board.
While numerous improvements, including some restroom facilities, better lighting and landscaping, have been installed along the city’s biggest and busiest park, most of the seawall parking revenue collected so far has gone to personnel and upkeep costs, according to records.
The improvements were paid for mostly with grant money.
Voters approved the $1 an hour charge in 2011 on the condition the money pay for improvements and amenities on the seawall. Last week, an ad hoc committee tasked with reviewing the program recommended that voters should be asked in a citywide referendum to continue the program and raise the minimum parking price.
About $348,175, 42 percent, of the $828,101 collected in fiscal year 2017 to 2018 went to personnel expenses, according to quarterly reports. Those expenses include the salaries of people who clean up the seawall and perform custodial maintenance on facilities, park board spokeswoman Mary Beth Bassett said.
Another $226,227 went to materials and supplies, which included costs for gasoline, repair and cleaning supplies, according to the reports. More than 67 percent of that line item, $153,600, was banking expenses, according to reports.
The $133,786 left after personnel and material costs went to the city and into the fund that has accumulated to $1.358 million since the seawall parking program begin in 2013.
The city pays the park board an administrative fee equal to 10 percent of gross revenue, which amounted to about $82,000 in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.
“The money collected for seawall parking has been used to maintain these added amenities, landscaping and other improvements,” Barnett said. “If voters approve an increase of $1 per hour for seawall parking, the additional revenue would go toward building and maintaining more amenities.”
Future improvements might include more bathrooms, lighting and additional street crossings on Seawall Boulevard, Barnett said.
But there’s no concrete plan as of yet, District 2 Councilman Craig Brown said.
“That’s something that council will be looking into,” Brown said. “We have an obligation to make sure we clarify that with the voters.”
The amenities already installed on the seawall, which include 30 bus stops, bathrooms, landscaping and lighting, were funded through grants and some local contributions, Barnett said.
“We paid for the improvements and their installation with a pair of federal grants totaling $5.864 million, a $1 million grant from Frito-Lay and $466,000 local share from hotel occupancy taxes,” Barnett said.
It has taken time for the seawall parking fund to accumulate enough money to pay for significant capital projects, District 3 Councilman David Collins said.
“The fund hadn’t built up,” Collins said. “We have enough money to maintain them now and we’re building that fund so in future years the parking revenue will fund the new improvements.”
More bathrooms, lighting and landscaping were likely uses of the capital funds, he said.
If voters decided to raise the parking fee, that money could go to some needed projects, park board Executive Director Kelly de Schaun said.
“We don’t have enough restrooms up there,” de Schaun said. “We’d love to see some more parking meters up there to defer some personnel costs. I think there’s more work to be done significantly.”
The city council is scheduled to discuss the ballot language next week to bring before voters this spring. If the measure fails, city officials have discussed bringing a revised ordinance to voters in November.