Carbon County commissioners on Thursday defended their decision to increase the parking fee at the county lot in Jim Thorpe from $5 to $10 on weekends and holidays.
The commissioners have received 61 letters 25 of which were from Jim Thorpe business owners, said Commissioner Thomas J. Gerhard rebuking them for increasing the fee.
The fees, set in January, are $5 Monday through Friday and $10 for Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
"There is a misconception that the funds are being used to offset the county budget," said Chairman Wayne Nothstein. "None of those funds that go into the parking have been used to offset the county budget."
He said the "people that benefit are the tourists by using those facilities. And those are the ones creating the expenses. We are not using those funds for county government."
Nothstein said the county has spent a total of $822,110.49 on the parking lot and adjoining train station and Asa Packer Park between 2008 and 2012.
He broke down the total into projects: $23,442 for a lighting project; $21,936 to buy 12 street lights; $32,612.53 for furniture, garbage cans, and bike racks for the park; $145,632.87 for the Old Mauch Chunk Streetscape; $115,080.39 for a railroad station restroom renovation; $140,167.90 for sidewalk replacement at the railroad station; $159,890.10 for a pedestrian crossing; and $183,348.70 for the parking lot rehabilitation project at 76 Susquehanna St.
Electric for the parking lot and street lights, water and electric for the train station, pest control and natural gas added another $74,143.
Add guide rails, maintenance supplies, and repairs and maintenance for a grand total of $944,424.77.
The figures do not include the labor of maintenance men, parking attendants, or the parking coordinator, Nothstein said.
They also don't include supplies, such as toilet paper and paper towels for the train station, which is the hub for tourists, trash removal, snow plowing, planting (the county just ordered $1,000 worth of plants, he said), or cleaning.
The county has recently begun tracking details it previously had not, such as time spent taking care of the county park.
"We are spending a tremendous amount of money in that parking lot," Nothstein said.
The money flow won't stop anytime soon, he said. On deck are a pedestrian bridge, lot repairs, and other expenses.
Further, said Commissioner William O'Gurek, the county has contributed $95,386.50 in grant money to the Jim Thorpe Chamber of Commerce over those four years, plus an additional $93,590 in grants to various Jim Thorpe businesses and organizations.
That brings the county's contribution to about $1.13 million.
The report, he said, "speaks volumes about this county's commitment to the Borough of Jim Thorpe, as far it pertains to tourism. There isn't another town in Carbon County that is benefiting more from the county's commitment to tourism than Jim Thorpe. And for business people on Broadway to actively pursue letters of complaint to be sent to the commissioners ... for them to do that is wrong. It's downright wrong."
O'Gurek said one businessman distributed sample letters, instructing people to drop them off at his store or telling them he would pick them up.
Gerhard said that he and Nothstein are both members of the Carbon County Chamber of Commerce. He alluded to a complaint that the parking fee was responsible for a drop in tourism. Gerhard said that he was a self-employed roofer for many years, and knows there are many factors that influence customer behavior.
"April was bad, and people aren't going to come out in the rain and go shopping in downtown Jim Thorpe," he said.
Gerhard also addressed the rumor that fees had been increased by 100 percent. The last increase was in 2000.
"It was a 7.7 percent increase when you figure it out over 13 years," he said.
Gerhard also said Jim Thorpe was the sole beneficiary of the county's largesse.
"Nowhere else in the county do they benefit like they do here in Jim Thorpe. How would people living in Weatherly, Summit Hill, Lehighton, Weissport ... $200,000 a year, for the county to come up there and give them that kind of money, they'd be thrilled," he said.
The financial report is a matter of public record, and can be obtained through the commissioners' office.