Metuchen officials consider creating a parking benefit district

METUCHEN — As Downtown Metuchen gears up for new smart parking meters, borough officials may consider creating a parking benefit district.

Jason Delia, a member of the borough’s Traffic and Transportation Committee, suggested that officials look into creating the district during the Feb. 5 council meeting.

“[The district] would take all the revenue from the meters and reinvest it into a specific geographic region the council would designate in town,” he said.

Delia said the district was a suggestion in a downtown parking study the committee conducted in 2014.

“The parking benefit district would be funded through parking meter revenue and provide a steady stream of income to the town that would allow us incrementally to improve [the borough],” he said.

Delia said with the funds, the borough would be able to purchase more smart parking meters, maintain the meters, fix sidewalks, update lighting, install high visibility crosswalks, add trees, maintain trees, purchase street furniture and provide more bike racks.

The funds, Delia said, could also go toward more public areas, which is a multi-faceted approach to planning, design and management of public spaces.

“All these things we would love to be able to do, but we don’t have a budget for those types of things,” he said.

Delia said the Traffic and Transportation Committee has relied on grants to help fund improvements including the recent receipt of a $9.3 million grant from the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority to Middlesex County for the borough.

The funds from NJTPA will be used to support Metuchen’s efforts to improve public safety, pedestrian safety, traffic signals and eliminate trucks from striking the Main Street railroad bridge, which is overseen by Amtrak, NJ Transit, the county and the borough.

“The $9 million grant we are getting for Main Street is going to be amazing [for] the town,” he said. “[With the grant] we are able to do a large sweep of improvements; [however], it is not a steady stream of revenue for the town. Not only not a steady stream of revenue, but it is slow to come. It takes time to apply for [the grants and] if we receive them, it takes long to receive the funds.”

For example, in 2014, Metuchen was awarded the New Jersey Safe Routes to School grant, which is supported through the New Jersey Department of Transportation with funding from the Federal Highway Administration. Delia said the borough is just now receiving the funds from the grant.

He said grants are also limited and restrictive.

“The Main Street grant [from NJTPA] is restricted to Main Street improvements,” he said, noting that if the borough wanted to do a public art project, the Main Street funds could not be used.

Borough Administrator Jay Muldoon said a parking benefit district is something worth looking into. He said in the past, the revenue from the parking meters, which amounts to roughly $700,000 to $750,000 a year, goes toward tax stabilization.

“If [a parking benefit district were] implemented, [the funds would] no longer [go] into tax stabilization,” he said. “Some people might not think it would be a great idea. We have to think about the ramifications.”

Muldoon said the parking authority has contributed to some of the improvements that Delia has mentioned.

“There are sources of revenue to support [the improvements],” he said, adding some funds the business owners and property owners within the Metuchen Downtown Alliance district pay as an assessment each year go toward beautification and public art in the downtown. “We have to consider if the money goes [toward a parking benefit district], what the impact would be.”

The new smart parking meters are expected to be implemented as early as May. The council approved the parking authority’s proposal to upgrade all curbside parking meters in the core of the downtown area on Feb. 5. The proposal calls for the purchase of 218 smart meters.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermediagroup.com.