Last week, Carbon County commissioners released financial information in defense of an increase in fees to use the county parking lot in downtown Jim Thorpe. The information broke down the costs associated with maintaining and operating the lot, as well as the train station and amenities in Josiah White Park, which is often visitors' first stop.
Commissioners released the details in response to receiving 61 letters, 25 of which were from Jim Thorpe business owners, protesting the increase.
The increase brought the fees to $5 for Monday through Friday parking, and $10 for parking on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
Dan Hugos, president of the Jim Thorpe Tourism Agency, responded to the commissioners' release of information and their comments.
"The Jim Thorpe Tourist Agency (formerly the Jim Thorpe Chamber of Commerce) was surprised to see the issue of parking prices at the county lot in Jim Thorpe turn into a public and emotional discussion on tourism. From the beginning, we have been respectful, keeping the question focused on parking. We've scrupulously avoided the limelight, instead attempting to work with the commissioners by suggesting solutions and trying to find a middle ground," he said. "The irony is that U-turns at the county parking lot have come not from visitors; they're already here. They've come from Carbon residents, and understandably so. On weekends particularly, they're the ones who feel a $10 parking fee the most."
He added, "We need Carbon County business in order to survive, but instead, we see less traffic from residents in general, and it is borne out by the parking lot numbers," Hugos said. "Maybe it's a good time for this discussion. We're all feeling tough economic times trying to pay our local and county taxes. We have no agenda whatsoever toward taxes: they're inevitable as they say, and are necessary in order to receive the services we expect in return. But our businesses need to be successful in order to lessen the burden of paying them."
Hugos defended the letter campaign by local businesses.
"We've always respected the fact that the commissioners have a difficult job to do, and have, every step of the way, attempted to engage them civilly and reasonably. Beyond that, to encourage the writing of letters by local businesses and citizens is to promote the mildest exercise of participatory democracy that the people can possibly undertake in order to get the attention of their elected public officials. We should welcome input," he said.
Hugos said his group has suggested alternatives to the fee increase.
"Far beyond mere complaints, we have offered solutions to doubling weekend parking rates, such as a different rate for Carbon residents, a reduced rate for all after noon on weekends, and publicizing county programs for weekly parking for business employees. We understand that we won't agree on all, and a price hike may be warranted, but we simply disagree that doubling the price on weekends, across the board, is the best solution," he said.
He said the county's financial details also raise some questions.
"Ledgers are made up of an income sheet, not just expenses, as the (TIMES NEWS) article seems to suggest. An expense is undertaken to achieve some sort of benefit, or it is money wasted.
"We're interested in how expense is offset by the income generated by the train station (the Reading Northern operation, Pocono Mountain Vacation Bureau, and the Mauch Chunk Trust) and the county parking lot, and what percentages come from weekdays and weekends.
"In short, is doubling parking rates on all weekends the only solution there is?" Hugos asked. "Our incomes aren't guaranteed, there are no pensions in our lines of work, many of us work second and third jobs, and the economy is in a difficult period. We accept full responsibility what we all may do for a living are our choices and ours alone. But it's perfectly natural to feel urgency when something that affects your livelihood takes place without any established means of input and response," Hugos said.
"The county parking lot is a good example of an investment that truly benefits both Carbon residents and visitors. As Carbon residents and employers ourselves, our businesses are demonstrably affected by parking lot price decisions, and we ask only for input into the decision-making process."