CAPE MAY — The Rev. Bill Davis is not looking forward to a summer in which the city’s parking meters become a collection plate of sorts, one he must fill daily with quarters.
Davis, a retired priest who spends summers here at a Beach Avenue home with other vacationing priests from Delaware, is fighting a plan by the city to install parking meters on the east side of town and around his summer home. The group’s director, the Rev. William McCandless, is collecting petition signatures to try and overturn an ordinance adopted last month by City Council that would add more than 400 parking meters along Beach Avenue and its side streets.
The city expects angled parking on Beach Avenue and Gurney Street to add 334 new metered spaces and bring in $150,000 in added revenue. A separate ordinance adding about 80 meters on the east side of town would generate about $75,000.
Petition organizer Jay Smith said they need the signatures of 152 registered voters by April 13 to challenge the ordinances with a public referendum question on the November ballot. Smith said a simple majority vote could overturn them. If the petition is approved, Smith said he expects the city to delay installing the meters until the November vote.
Davis said the Beach Avenue home, which the priests have owned since 1939 and pay full taxes on, has just one parking space but as many as 18 people staying there on summer days.
“We’ll have to bring a lot of quarters,” Davis said.
Davis said it would cost him $12 a day to feed Beach Avenue meters from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., since they eat four quarters per hour. The city also plans to put meters on the side streets off Beach Avenue and run them from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“The side streets would cost me $8 a day. This would cost me over $1,000 over the summer,” Davis said.
It isn’t just the money. Davis said he spends most of his time on the beach but now would have to constantly leave the warm sands and cool waters to feed the meters.
The meters have already spawned a new group, Friends and Neighbors of East Cape May, or FAN ECM, as well as a Web site.
The group’s immediate goal is to overturn the ordinance allowing the meters and a second ordinance calling for angled parking instead of parallel parking.
Smith, like most east-end property owners, is not a year-round resident but drove up from Virginia on Saturday to collect signatures.
“I was blown away by the support for us, for our side. They were thinking if they’re going to slap meters on the east end, then we’re next,” said Smith.
Mayor Ed Mahaney disagreed. He said most residents would vote for the meters. Mahaney said the east side of town has few year-round residents and many rent their properties. He said Beach Avenue is largely commercial and even on the east end there are condominiums and some businesses.
More importantly, Mahaney said, residents enjoy having more than 50 percent of the city’s budget paid for by tourist fees such as room taxes, parking meters, beach tags, traffic tickets and the like. The state reduced its aid by $95,000 this year and the new meters would make up for that, Mahaney said.
“Meters are a million-dollar line item in the municipal budget and they’re used to support general operations. Less than 50 percent of our budget is from property taxes and most towns it’s 75 percent. We’re far in advance of other towns,” Mahaney said.
But the mayor isn’t conceding that opponents can force a vote on the meters. The mayor said state statute allows the city to determine where parking meters go as an administrative function of government and it is not subject to a public vote.
“We have case law on this that supports our position,” Mahaney said.
A full airing of that issue awaits the filing of the petition.
Mahaney said the first step would be to determine whether the signatures are valid and then council could avoid a referendum by rescinding the ordinances or by rejecting the petition based on state statutes.
“If we reject the petition, it’s then up to them what they do. If they file a lawsuit, we could still put up the meters. It’s not an automatic call that meters would be thwarted for this summer,” Mahaney said.
The last referendum question here was in 2006 when residents voted 549-416 to overturn a bond ordinance funding improvements to the Washington Street Mall. Mahaney said there are criteria for referendum questions and bond ordinances can be challenged. This is not a bond ordinance.
“This petition may very well not meet standards for a public referendum. It will be reviewed if a petition is filed,” Mahaney said.
The mayor conceded that the challenge could cost the city in lost meter revenue and in legal fees.
Some residents are willing to compromise.
Jim Knipper, of Princeton and 1521 Beach Ave., said he would accept meters on the ocean side of Beach Avenue but not the north side lined with single-family homes or the side streets. He has no problem with meters on the north side in areas with businesses, such as a large motor inn nearby.
Knipper said the east end was developed a century ago and never has had meters. He pays $20,000 a year in property taxes and now will have to pay “a couple thousand” to feed meters when his children and other family members visit. Knipper said he has only two off-street parking spaces.
“There are four municipalities on this island (Cape May, West Cape May, Cape May Point and the Schellengers Landing section of Lower Township make up Cape Island). Why not look into consolidating to save money, rather than meters,” Knipper said.
His wife, Teresa, plans to change her residency to Cape May just to vote here.
East-end residents hired an attorney to fight the ordinances before they were approved. Sanford Schmidt argued meters would destroy the historical character and residential nature of the east end. Mahaney countered that zoning and the historical significance of homes “plays no role in parking meter installation.”
Schmidt said the meters will simply push motorists further from the beach, congesting other neighborhoods. Petition organizer Jim Testa said if beachgoers don’t use the meters, then the only ones being penalized are those who own houses in the newly metered areas.
“More meters is not the direction Cape May ought to be going in,” Testa said.
Mahaney, ever-conscious of state budget cuts and caps imposed on budgets, argues meters are exactly the direction to be going in.
Cape May Meter Revenue By Year
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