SUMMIT, NJ - Opposition by many merchants and residents to the fee structure and other facets of the Summit shopper parking lot plan put into effect earlier this year has resulted in a proposal at Tuesday's common council meeting to restructure the fee schedule for shopper parking facilities near DeForest Avenue.

Under the plan enacted earlier this year, only the first half hour of parking was free in the lots, with shoppers and others using the lots paying only for the time they used as they left the lots, using cash, credit cards or the Park Mobile application that they were able to download from their Smart Phones.

A number of merchants appeared at the council’s April 2 meeting complaining that the short amount of time allowed for free parking and the complications of the payment system were costing them customers because people were more likely to shop in other communities than deal with the new system.

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After presenting a report on the new system, Parking Services Manager Rita McNany announced that the city, the Summit Parking Committee and Summit Downtown, Inc. had agreed to a new fee structure that would provide free parking for the first hour, $1 for any time over an hour up to 90 minutes, gradually increasing by $1 for each additional hour and then to $10 for six hours, $12 for seven hours, eight hours for $20, nine hours for $25 and 10 hours for $30.

Under the new system, merchants also would be able to purchase discount tickets for their customers at 75 cents for each $1 coupon.

McNany said that, even though some merchants wanted to have the first 90 minutes of parking provided free, it was felt that this would bring back long-term parkers who would take up spaces that should be “turned over” more quickly to encourage more shoppers to use the lots.

She also said that a report on the new system, compiled between January and March of this year, showed that the current system had accomplished its goals of creating more turnover and parking availability, eliminating many long-term parkers from the shopper lots, doing away with the issuance of summonses for those who overstayed their time without paying for it and encouraging more people to stay in the downtown area and enjoy Summit.

Councilman Gregory Drummond, a member of the general services committee, who helped develop the plan, said it was the consensus of those who worked on the plan that the new proposal would best address the concerns raised.

Councilman Albert Dill, who chairs the general services committee, said the new proposal seemed to best address the concerns of merchants and shoppers but the plan could be changed later if it did not accomplish its purpose.

Although supportive of the one-hour fee change, Councilman Patrick Hurley said the plan passed earlier this year and the current proposal still were dealing with the problem of employees taking up shopper parking by punishing the rest of the users.

As for the new gated parking areas and new metering system, Hurley said they were “modern versions of an antiquated system” and the city should obtain much better technology such as that employed in other communities.

He also said enforcement of the parking regulations still remained “Draconian” with parkers being penalized for being a minute or two over time limits.

Kevin Smallwood, chairman of Summnit Downtown, Inc. and a parking committee member, said  the merchants had recommended that complimentary parking be extended to 90 minutes.

Smallwood said the 25 percent discount for merchant-purchased coupons also was a step in rhe right direction, but, overall, the proposals were only temporary until a long-term overall solution to the problem is found.

“Parking may not be ruining businesses, as many merchants claim,” Smallwood said, “but it does play a significant role in the downtown area.”

He also said, with the long winter and summer approaching, merchants had a “short selling season” and needed the new system to go into effect as soon as possible.

Council president Richard Madden said he would like to see an ordinance prepared for introduction at the May 7 meeting so it could be implemented by July.

Merchant Bob Wheatley, although calling the proposals a step in the right direction, said Hurley was correct in many of his comments on technology.

He said the said should try valet parking or looking into smart phone applications which tell motorists in real time where in the city parking is available.

Walkwell Shoes proprietor Peter Rooney, however, said he had decided to drop children’s shoes from his offerings after 50 years due to about a 30 percent drop in business. He estimated much of this was caused by the shopper parking system.

Many of his elderly customers, Rooney said, had trouble dealing with the parking pay stations and  many had found it tough to accomplish what they wanted in 30 minutes in the downtown area.

He added, “People also are not going to pay for parking just so they can do their shopping.”

However, Lisa Allen of 125 Blackburn Road, said she was happy with the changes instituted last year and early this year.

She said the new system was working and the parking ambassadors were visible, although she thought the signage in the parking areas could be improved.

Resident Barbara Dugan also applauded the new system, but said type on informational booklets handed out by parking ambassadors could be larger.

She also said when events like Girls Night Out are scheduled the parking lot gates should be opened at 5 instead of 6 pm to allow for better complimentary parking access.

Dill and City Administrator Chris Cotter said a system was being worked out to allow better access for Girls Night Out, although Dill said the city had to be careful that some groups did not feel favoritism was being given to other groups by allowing access on Girls Night Out.

Dorrie Gagnon of Bedford Road said more should be done to prevent store employees from feeding meters. She also said, with six children, it was often difficult to manage them and deal with the parking pay stations.

Gagnon also suggested that parking restrictions be lifted on Friday or Saturday evenings during the spring or summer to allow more people access to the downtown so they would come back.

On the school board’s five-year capital plan, Tracy Luckner particularly supported proposed renovations to Jefferson School that include removal of a dangerous steep slope near the school, relocation of a dangerous electrical box near the playground area, doing away with sink holes on the school property, securing the main office area so that admitted visitors could not hide once given access to the building and construction of another girls’ bathroom that would be adjacent to the cafeteria.

She said these improvements would improve city property values and increase safety and sanitary conditions for the students.

William Duff of Baltusrol Road supported Luckner’s comments, noting he had two children who had attended Wilson Primary Center, which has a locked door next to the main office requiring visitors to go through an additional access point before being allowed to roam the school.

Gagnon, however, said fullday kindergarten should be included in the mix because it would prepare her children and those of other residents for first, second and later grades.

“It is not just about taxes,” she added. “We should find a way to pay for it. Fullday kindergarten will increase learning while allowing more time for kids just to be kids.”

However, resident Debbie Chang said it was premature to spend money on fullday kindergarten when Summit High School is overcrowded and many seniors in this year’s graduating class did not get into the colleges they wanted.

She said Summit no longer is competitive with neighboring communities like Millburn.

“We should first take care of the class of 2014 and not be so worried about the class of 2027,” she said.

She also said the school board should consider an alternate proposal that would again house kindergartens in Wilson and other elementary schools.

Resident Regina Feeney also noted renovations were needed to Franklin School, which has security issues similar to those at Jefferson, along with small group instruction in alcoves and closets and requires children to walk across a parking lot to get to classes.

Allen added Summit needs to balance a good education with the costs of various proposals . She asked how much people who have smaller incomes would be willing to give up before they decided Summit’s schools were not providing what their children needed and decided to leave the community.

Another parent said the school board needed to prioritize and consider that fullday kindergarten might drive away excellent privately-run fullday programs in Summit.

On other school board matters, Mayor Ellen Dickson announced that Gloria Ron-Fornes, board vice president, was expected to become board president for next year. She also announced the reappointment of Katherine Kalin, a vice president at Celgene, for another three-year term on the school body, and the appointment of James Freeman, an editor at The Wall Street Journal and former PBS producer, to the board.

Freeman will replace board president George Lucaci, who is completing his third term on the school body.

In other business, the council held its first public hearing on the city’s 2013 operating budget, with a second hearing scheduled for May 7.

Cotter gave a rundown of the $47,329 994 spending plan, which, according to council finance chairman Dave Bomgaars, will result in only a 0.25 per cent tax increase, or $9.25, on a home assessed at $410,000 in Summit.

The city administrator pointed out while the budget includes a new position in the community programs depaetment and a large sum to improve technology, it also includes a decrease of $435,456 in employee group health plan costs because employees are paying for contributions to their plans.

Cotter added this decrease probably would get larger next year as unionized employees are required to contributed to their healthcare plans.

Councilman Tom Getzendanner noted Union County spending, however, was expected to increase about 6.3 percent and Dill urged residents to keep closer taps on county spending.

Hurley noted Summit only receives about 10 cents on every dollars it spends on county taxes and called the state tax equalization formula an “income redistribution plan.”

The council also amended the 2013 sewer utility budget to include a $41,000 payment on a bond anticipation note and $95,000 as Summit’s share of a settlement of the Passaic River cleanup lawsuit. 

The suit was initiated by a number of chemical companies accused of polluting the river near the Newark area who were charged to clean up the river. They, in turn, accused a number of municipalities along the Passaic, along with the Joint Meeting of Union and Essex Counties, of which Summit is a member, of contributing to pollution of the river. Although the third-party defendants denied the charges they felt a protracted legal fight would have cost several hundred million dollars, so they agreed to the settlement.