As the city prepares to host a vote that could both extend the seawall paid parking program and raise hourly rates, it still hasn’t received the state authority necessary to implement the program that would fund maintenance for improvements already on Seawall Boulevard, state officials said.
Early voting begins April 22 for a ballot measure proposing a 10-year extension to the paid seawall parking program, pushing the sunset date to Dec. 31, 2029 and a hike to the hourly fee from $1 to $2, according to city ballot language. Election day is May 4.
The proposed changes would also set a minimum purchase of two hours. The current program is set to expire next summer.
Right now, the city has approval from the Texas General Land Office to charge a maximum $8 per day for parking along the seawall, land office spokeswoman Karina Erickson said.
The office oversees Texas beaches and regulates beach user fees, such as the seawall parking rates.
Even if residents approve of the $16 maximum daily charge, the proposal still has to clear the necessary hurdles, Erickson said.
The land office responded to the city’s proposal on March 26, asking for more information, Erickson said.
“One of the issues, among many, is ensuring that there is free parking evenly distributed throughout the seawall as required in the city’s beach access plan,” Erickson said.
Even if voters approve the fee in May, the city cannot implement it until the land office ensures it is consistent with state law and the fee is reasonable, she said.
“Although not required, it would be preferred to go through the state certification process first before going up for a vote,” Erickson said.
It’s possible the state will deny the city’s proposal, but that’s a slim chance, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.
Voters are likely to be in favor of increased fees, as well, after seeing the amenities the program has brought to the seawall, he said.
If voters approve the extension, amenities will come “fairly quickly” this time, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.
The paid program launched in 2013, two years after the voters approved a parking fee, but many of the amenities promised in the 2011 election weren’t completed until last year.
“We’ve not been aggressive on capital improvements because we wanted to make sure we had the money to maintain these capital improvements,” Yarbrough said.
While the program has generated about $3.4 million since beginning, the majority of these fees have gone to maintaining the physical structures on the seawall, according to city records.
In the 2017 to 2018 fiscal year, about 70 percent, $574,402, of the $828,101 collected went to materials, personnel expenses and supplies, according to city records.
The city hadn’t processed any reports for 2019 yet, but as of December, about $1.38 million is left in a reserve fund to eventually be spent on capital projects, city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.
The current fixtures on the seawall were actually paid for through a $5.8 million federal grant, a $1 million grant from Frito-Lay and $466,000 in local funds, she said.
If, in the worst-case scenario, voters don’t approve of extending and raising parking fees, then the city will have the reserve fund to continue maintaining the bathrooms, landscaping and other seawall improvements, Yarbrough said.
While the parking fees are a city program, the maintenance is handled by the Galveston Park Board of Trustees.
The city isn’t working with a specific timeline to install more amenities along the seawall, if the new fees are approved, Barnett said.
“It depends on which amenities move forward or are the first priority and how much that improvement costs to purchase and maintain,” Barnett said. “Additional bathrooms or landscaping, for example, would have different costs.”
Yarbrough hasn’t heard much opposition from citizens to raising the parking fees, he said.
In past public discussions, Yarbrough indicated the city could bring the proposal back to voters in November if the measure fails to pass in May, he said.
The upcoming ballot language also proposes keeping the same hours of paid operation, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and increasing the price of an annual parking pass from $25 to $45.