As the city prepares to ask voters in May to raise seawall parking fees, the Galveston City Council also wants to leave open the option to raise fees again later on.
The city council drafted ballot language to continue paid parking along Seawall Boulevard for 10 years and to raise the fees from $1 to $2 an hour, but council members wouldn’t be opposed to raising rates again.
“Two dollars an hour is pretty cheap,” District 5 Councilman John Paul Listowski said. “When I go other places to park, I’m not paying $2 an hour.”
The proposed language caps the hourly rate at $2 an hour, but the council might want to change that later, District 3 Councilman David Collins said.
“If, five years from now, we decide that the $2 is not going to cut it, we could go back to the people and ask for the flexibility,” Collins said.
The seawall parking program is set to expire in the summer of 2020, unless voters agree that it should continue. As city officials plan for the so-called sunset referendum, they also have pushed for a higher rate, saying the fee increase could pay for more amenities such as bathrooms, landscaping and lighting.
Most city council members would rather charge a fee higher than $2 an hour, but want voters to be comfortable with the proposal, they said.
“I want the citizens of Galveston to get more comfortable voting on this,” District 4 Councilman Jason Hardcastle said.
A committee tasked with reviewing the program recommended the fee change, and proposed raising the price of an annual pass to $45 from $25.
The city council wasn’t interesting in raising the price of the annual pass beyond $45.
“The thing I keep hearing about is the residents want the tourists to pay for what they do here,” Listowski said. “That’s why I don’t think they care as much about the hourly rate as they do the annual pass.”
City staff gave the city council the option to put two questions on the ballot — one about continuing paid seawall parking, and the other would authorize the fee hike.
Council members preferred one ballot measure and one question that addressed both issues.
“Given all these options, people are getting confused and it’ll rapidly reduce your chances of success,” Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.
There shouldn’t be a problem with getting voters to approve the fee hike, Collins said.
“I don’t think there’s a great risk in it not passing,” Collins said. “I like what I’ve seen out there. I like what we’ve done. The seawall looks infinitely better than it did 10 years ago.”
The seawall parking program has generated about $3.4 million since its inception in 2013.
Much of that money has been spent on personnel expenses, materials and supplies, according to city records. In fiscal year 2017 to 2018, that accounted for $574,402, or 70 percent, of the $828,101 collected, according to city records.
The many improvements along the seawall have bene paid for mostly with grant money.
More than $1.3 million is in a fund that’s accumulated since 2013, a fund dedicated to future improvements, city officials said.
The city council aims to put the question before voters in May and will vote on the finalized ballot language during its Jan. 24 meeting.