Jim Thorpe area businesses are still asking Carbon County officials to reconsider its $10 parking fee.
During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, a number of business owners spoke to the board about the current parking fee, which went into effect March 1.
Thomas Lux, owner of the Mauch Chunk 5&10, said that since the county imposed the increase, 2,500 fewer vehicles parked in the county lot. The figures were obtained through public record.
"That is equal to not having a single visitor park in the county lot the entire month of June," he said, noting that according to the county information, the parking fund has $700,000 in cash in it, and the county just entered into a lease agreement with the state for $300,000.
"I have one question," he said. "Why are the commissioners pursuing a policy of $10 for parking that hurts local people, local job, and local businesses when you have almost $1 million in parking assets and had a great year in parking revenue in 2012 at the old rate?"
Commissioner William O'Gurek said that he believes the $10 fee is fair.
He added that no person complained about the proposed fee hike after the county advertised the ordinance proposal in January.
According to an article published in the TIMES NEWS on Jan. 19, the commissioners voted at that time to advertise the proposed ordinance that revises the rates for unmetered parking lots operated by the county.
The advertisement stated, "Under the ordinance, the county lot parking fees shall be $5 for cars Monday through Friday and $10 on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays; $10 for campers; $6 for non-county school buses; and $15 for buses. During the Fall Foliage activities in October, the rates will be $10 for cars; $20 for buses and non-county school buses; and $15 for campers."
"When we adopted the ordinance earlier this year we had advertised it prior to its adoption to allow persons to comment with regard to the proposed hike and not one person attended; not one person offered any comment on it," O'Gurek said yesterday. "When no one responded to it, I think what the commissioners did at that time was feel that silence was consent and we proceeded with the proposal since no one had any objection to it at that time."
Lux responded that no businesses were aware of the ordinance before it was put in place.
O'Gurek said he wasn't sure why no businesses knew because the county advertised the proposed ordinance in two newspapers as required by law.
Lux said that whether the businesses knew or not is "water under the bridge" at this time, but said that now the problem is the loss of visitors to the county seat.
"We are down 25 percent in the volume of cars," Lux said. "This has a dramatic effect on the local people, local jobs, and local businesses and I think the commissioners should be concerned about that."
Commissioner Thomas J. Gerhard, vice chairman, said that the commissioners are looking to work with the businesses to help employees in the town.
He echoed O'Gurek regarding the advertising of the ordinance before it was adopted.
"It was stated in the paper and advertised that our intentions were to increase the parking fee," Gerhard told the group, adding that if you look at the money the county spends on upkeep of the train station and lot, which was highlighted during a meeting in June, you would see where the money is going.
"I believe that lot benefits the business people on Broadway," he said. "It doesn't benefit anyone else here."
Lux responded, "We're not going to need the lot if we lose customers at the rate of 25 percent. We're not going to need employee parking. We're not going to need the train station. We're not going to need the visitors center. We're not going to need the bathrooms. We're not going to need any of that if you drive away all our business.
Gerhard said that once Commissioner Wayne Nothstein returns from vacation, the board will have more discussion on the matter.
Business owners Lisa Lux, Betty Lou McBride, Barrett Ravenhurst and Dan Hugos also voiced their opinion on the increase and how it is hurting the town.
"When you benefit your businesses and your downtown, you benefit all of the people in the town," Lux said. "So it is not just the businesses, it is the town. If you try to take care of the businesses and downtown, you are supporting local people."
McBride said that she and her husband have a "big stake in town" as the owners of the Old Jail Museum; as well as five other buildings in downtown Jim Thorpe.
She brought up the tax increase for 2013 by the county, saying that it now takes 2,000 visitors to the jail to make enough money to pay the taxes on the building.
"We have been drastically affected," she said of the parking lot fee increase. "Numbers are down (at the jail museum), complaints have increased. In 1900, we were second only to Niagara Falls in tourism. What happened?"
She noted that since World War I, a number of events have hurt the area, adding that this year alone 13 of the 75 businesses in Jim Thorpe have closed.
"Look at the towns around us, they ask 'how can we make us like Jim Thorpe.' Well how can Lansford, Coaldale, Lehighton be like Jim Thorpe? They all have old buildings they can't rent. We have buildings that do rent. You have a choice. You either help the other towns become like Jim Thorpe or raise this parking fee and make Jim Thorpe like the rest of the towns."
She suggested the fee be maybe $6 or even $7, but not $10.
"Ten dollars is too much so please take this seriously," she ended. "We cannot survive under these conditions."
Ravenhurst said that Jim Thorpe is not Bucks County, which is a wealthy county.
"They draw a lot of tourists from Philly and New York," he said. "They charge $10 and they can do that. We're talking about Lehighton, Weissport, Tamaqua. These places don't have the money to spend $10."
Hugos said that the jobs created in Jim Thorpe are not just wait staff and room cleaners.
"They are electricians, plumbers, title searchers, lawyers," he said. "Without the tourism industry, they go away. We are concerned. we have our entire financial lives wrapped up in Jim Thorpe. This parking increase operates as a tax for the Carbon County residents and it hurts the residents the most."