Seawall parking improvements

One of the island’s rubber-wheeled trolleys passes a bus stop at 19th Street and Seawall Boulevard on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. The bus stops, bathrooms and planters were some of the improvements funded mostly by grant money and maintained with parking fees.

GALVESTON

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.

Keri Heath: 409-683-5241; keri.heath@galvnews.com or on Twitter @HeathKeri.

Reporter

(2) comments

Jarvis Buckley

There will be a lot of back & forth regarding paid parking on the Seawall but in the end residents will support it with their vote. Tourists should pay their fair share. Just my thoughts.....

Miceal O'Laochdha

This sounds like a typical case of government bureaucracy relying upon the short memories of Americans (in this case, Galvestonians). Do we remember the long and very adversarial battle that went on for several years over this parking fee program and that originally, a substantial majority of Islanders were outspoken in their opposition? Hello Greg Roof? Ultimately, the balance was swung in favor of charging for parking by the promises of large amounts of income to be generated (quite a lot more than $600k per year, if I remember correctly?) which would in turn fund all these "amenities" of restrooms and showers, planters, etc. which residents really did want to see installed. Now the story is that the amenities that tipped the balance of that vote were actually funded by Federal grant money (Uncle Sugar), Frito-Lay (a Hurricane Ike gift) and HOT taxes. Not the parking revenue as promised. And now we see that a whole lot of the meager funds raised are going to simply perpetuating the bureaucracy. 42% of gross to personnel. 67% of the materials expenditure line item went to banking fees! (I guess at least the bankers are pleased). Nothing resembling what was promised in order to get Islanders to change their mind and vote in favor of charging for seawall parking has proven to be true during what was intended to function as a trial period; and now we are supposed to forget all that and simply decide how much more money we ought to feed into the perpetual motion machine. Voters need to take a hard look at the whole program before focusing our attention on how to increase the money flow. We should be asking ourselves if we have been sold a bill of goods to begin with and, on that basis, decide how much trust should be placed in what we are being told now that our approval is again needed.

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