Beach parking fees may soon double in Belmar

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The borough council has pulled back on a proposal to double parking fees on Ocean Avenue for this year. [DANIELLA HEMINGHAUS]

BELMAR — Despite a successful legal challenge to higher parking fees at the borough beachfront in 2016, Belmar officials say they may try again by allocating the proceeds between beach and parking utilities in line with the court’s ruling.

The fee, for parking in stalls along Ocean Avenue, had been doubled to $2 an hour in 2013, before the ruling forced the borough to set it back to $1.

But Mayor Mark Walsifer told the borough council last week that a second try at a $2 fee is the only way to avert a financial crisis at the beachfront.

“We’re not going to be able to cover all the expenses at $1, especially after the way the judge ruled how we have to handle it,” the mayor said. 

Referring to the 2016 ruling, Borough Council President Tom Brennan said, “As long as we make the same proportional division that is supposed to happen, with 60 percent of the money goes into the beach utility and 40 percent of the money goes into the parking utility, we’re fine.” 

The 2013 increase, enacted under former mayor Matthew Doherty, was challenged in a lawsuit filed by residents John Susko, Patricia Corea, Noreen Dean, James Bean, Joy DeSanctis and Francine Dolan. 

The residents contended that the higher parking fee improperly restricted their ability to access the beach. Superior Court Judge Katie Gummer ruled that “in doubling the fees, the borough was intentionally and improperly using beach fees to raise money for its general fund to avoid raising taxes on its residents.”

In testimony during the trial, former chief finance officer Robin Kirk admitted that a previous 60/40 split of parking fee revenue between the beach utility and the parking fund had not been followed following the 2013 increase. As a result, the beach utility was shortchanged by $18,671 in 2013 and $45,766 in 2014. 

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