Carbon County is planning to reduce the parking fee in its county lot in 2014.
During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, the board voted to advertise an amendment to the parking ordinance of the lot. The amendment, which Commissioner Thomas J. Gerhard outlined, will be to continue charging $5 on weekdays; but reduce the weekend rate from $10 to $6, with the exception of the weekends in October, which will remain as $10, as well as the St. Patrick's Day parade weekend.
The formal adoption of the amendment will take place in approximately 30 days and will be effective immediately after that.
Commissioner William O'Gurek said before the vote that the reason for the reduction is because the county has received a lot of criticism, some unjust and some constructive.
"Constructive criticism warrants conversation and consideration and that is what Commissioner Gerhard's motion was today," he said.
He addressed some of the criticism that stated the commissioners "killed the goose that laid the golden egg" and "were willing to risk crushing tourism" when they raised the fee for 2013.
"Some of those statement, in my opinion, were not fair," O'Gurek said. "This board spent hundreds of thousands of dollars toward the enhancement of tourism in Carbon County and in Jim Thorpe specifically, so I think it's hardly killing the golden goose. If this year's parking increase were to blame for crushing tourism, I would ask then why has there been an increase in the number of people riding the train and an increase in the number of people visiting Asa Packer Mansion. Be it as it may, the commissioners have accepted that criticism and have considered a lot of comments, factors and figures with regards to the parking lot and the three of us have expressed we want to be tourism-friendly."
He explained that the county will now follow the figures for 2014 to see if the decrease has a difference in the cars parking over this year.
"We wanted to wait to the end of this year to see what the numbers looked like before we changed it," O'Gurek said. "If we're getting blamed for tourism being down or less money being spent in the borough because we raised the rate, then I guess it stands to reason that now that we decreased it, that if there is an increase (in the cars parking in the lot) then I hope next year at this time they're back here to give us credit for it."
Gerhard and Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, chairman, also addressed the subject.
Gerhard thanked his colleagues for supporting this move.
"Our interest is to represent the people fairly and I think today, by putting this motion on the table, we have shown we are willing to work not only with the businesses in Jim Thorpe, but also with the people of the county," he said. "I don't think it (the lower parking numbers) was because of that increase in the parking lot, but we are going to watch the numbers and see if anything changes next year."
Nothstein said that some of the criticism was unfair because people were not comparing apples to apples when they looked only at 2012 parking figures, which were one of the highest in recent years, instead of looking at a couple of years to get a clearer picture.
"We wanted to give it (the $10 parking fee) a chance and see what happened," Nothstein said. "Now we'll see what happens in the upcoming year.
"It will be interesting to see over the next couple of years what the parking will be like because it all hinges on the economy and what will happen with regards to the number of cars parked in the lot."
Nothstein said that the county has used the funds from the lot to support the local economy through improvement projects such as the renovation to the Old Mauch Chunk Train Station and the trail into Lehigh Gorge State Park.
O'Gurek added that no matter what happens, the county's commitment to the area will remain the same.
Tom Lux, owner of the Mauch Chunk 5&10 and one of the business owners that has asked the county to reduce the rate, said that the move was "the right decision."
"Everyone is going to win with this," he said after the meeting. "The county will get more money than they did and the traffic congestion and meters will be freed up for local traffic. Tourism may be up but the lot is down 5,000 cars, so what other conclusion can you draw other than people are parking elsewhere and avoiding the lot.
"I think now that they lowered the rate there will be more people parking in the lot."