By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
The Town of Carolina Beach contracts for management of their parking program to a private company called Lanier Parking. Prior to Lanier, they contracted with Central Parking. Earlier this year during budget discussions there was discussion of bringing that program "back in-house" and doing away with contracting with a private company and paying them management and maintenance fees.
Back in February of 2010, Mayor Joel Macon explained during a Council meeting, "I agree with Bob on this. I think we can do it ourselves. We can do it cheaper," and, "I think we have plenty of time to look it at and have it all worked out so we know it is a good decision come time. I mean, I like the parking company. I wanted them years ago." Macon explained, “What’s going to happen, is if we don’t do it now, it will get pushed to the last minute... and we won’t have time to do the research... but right now we have time to look at how many people it would take and what it would take.”
Councilman Bob Lewis explained, “I’ve run the numbers ten ways from Tuesday and I truly can’t believe it cost $300,000 to deliver it.”
The Town brings in around a million dollars a year - after they hiked parking rates and fees for 4x4 vehicle access to Freeman Park on the beach. Currently there is a debate among Council members, primarily Dan Wilcox and Bob Lewis, about contracting verses bringing it back in-house and the proper time, place and method to question the status quo and research the possibilities to the benefit of all taxpayers. Bob wants it back in-house, Dan's not convinced that's a good idea.
Setting all of the arguments aside for the moment, back in February the Mayor said, "I think we can do it ourselves" and that, "I think we have plenty of time to look it at and have it all worked out so we know it is a good decision" and, "What’s going to happen, is if we don’t do it now, it will get pushed to the last minute... and we won’t have time to do the research."
The budget planning process is literally right around the corner. The contract with Lanier Parking is set to renew in January.
The Mayor's prediction may actually be coming true. It may be pushed to the last minute if Town Manager Tim Owens doesn't present research along with Bob Lewis' research, and others, for discussion and consideration of all options available to the Town.
The overall goal should be to save the taxpayers money. If that means bringing it back in-house as a Town function or putting the contract out for bids by Lanier and other parking companies to get a better deal, that's what should happen; before Christmas.
I know it's a tight time frame, but the Mayor talked about not waiting until the last minute way back in February of this year. The last "bid process" was really quick. It shouldn't be a problem to put this contract out for bid ready for the December meeting.
The Town is capable of running their own water and sewer services, lifeguard program, police and fire departments, and a full service recreation department. It would stand to reason they can operate their own parking enforcement program.
They can author and adopt a balanced budget and manage large infrastructure projects, perhaps they can operate a parking enforcement program.
Why pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to a corporation that has it’s own overhead and desired profit margin, when our Town is both capable and can be held accountable for the amount of profit they collect.
Bringing the program back under the control of the police department would allow the Town to enjoy a revenue source without the draw of corporate profit margins.
We own all of the parking meters and pay stations at our many parking lots. We own them outright with no strings attached.
Maybe it as easy as buying a couple of scooters or golf carts and we can do it ourselves, save some money and still make enough to fund all of our existing tourism fund expenditures; with more left over for savings.
We have to research it adequately to find out.
That savings could go to help fund additional lifeguards, the pier land purchase, more parking, and other tourism related expenditures or the Town’s General Fund when times are tough.
Continuing to detach ourselves from the responsibility of providing the service by paying more money for someone else to do it is not fiscally responsible if we don't periodically bid out the process for a lower cost or look at doing it ourselves for far less.
That's something we all do when considering our personal expenses. Can we get it cheaper somewhere else or do-it-ourselves?
The Town use to operate it’s own parking enforcement program but decided it was more efficient hiring a company with experience to carry out that service. That was a long time ago, and now the Town has years of data and has witnessed the evolution of the parking program. A program that was tailored to the business climate and values of the citizenry.
We’ve attained on the job training and can now put that experience to work by using that knowledge to our benefit at a reduced cost or to better negotiate contracts for a lower price.
If the Town can hire their own people and the appropriate management structure and those costs do not come with a corporate profit margin like we are currently paying, we may very well be able to realistically save money doing it ourselves.
For starters, whether or not we do it in-house or keep contracting out, the Town should move the parking office into Town Hall to cut the cost paid to the contractor for leasing a separate location to accept tickets, count money and push paper. Make it easier for people to find saying, "Go to Town Hall" rather than complicated directions to a small hidden out of the way hole in the wall parking office.
We did pay over $4.5 million for Town Hall. I think we can save some money and find room for the "parking office".
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