Group asks state leaders to change how New Hanover County towns use parking revenues

Group is concerned about how beach town spends parking money

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Paid parking is a common source of indignation for visitors to beach towns in the region, but as more towns adopt these programs, some folks are looking to state leaders to implement some sort of change.

While it might seem like a local issue, in New Hanover County, state law expressly exempts four municipalities from requirements dictating how exactly funds from on-street parking can be used.

General Statute 160A-301 reads, “Proceeds from the use of parking meters on public streets must be used to defray the cost of enforcing and administering traffic and parking ordinances and regulations.”

But, a 1998 law followed by a 2001 amendment, allows New Hanover County’s municipalities to use these revenues for anything they would use revenues from off-street parking for — like keeping taxes lower.

“The state law for North Carolina states that on-street metered parking, the proceeds, and revenue for said parking can only be used to maintain the parking meters, the roads, it’s for traffic purposes, there are very specific allocation for where these funds go — at the state level,” said Emily Kohls, one of the people asking state lawmakers to make some changes.

But for the Town of Wrightsville Beach, which is often the source of many people’s ire, the money is an important source of revenue that not only keeps taxes low but helps pay for resources needed to handle the huge influx of visitors each summer.

“Basically, we’re a city of 2,500 full-time residents and we have to staff up to basically take care of the bonanza of 20,000 to 30,000 each summer, so that’s really what we use the parking revenue for. We use it for police, police vehicles, fire, lifeguards, and also to put money aside for future beach nourishment,” Town Manager Tim Owens said.

The group, which has organized itself on Facebook, is not expecting free parking in the beach towns; however, the overnight increase in hourly parking fees by 100% has caused some concern.

“Another thing that I don’t think is unreasonable to ask is that there be some limit because as the law stands right now, the amendment that was added in 1998 and edited in 2001 — there is no limit on how much it can be increased. I mean, next year there’s nothing to say they couldn’t increase it to $10 an hour if they wanted to,” Kohls said.

Kohls and others have had conversations with state lawmakers asking for some regulations to be placed on the towns. Representative Ted Davis Jr. did respond but was not willing to support any changes to the current law.

“The bottom line is that, after giving your concerns and the input from others very serious consideration, I will not introduce legislation, or support any such legislation introduced by another, to repeal either House Bill 1596 or House Bill 212. I will also not introduce legislation or support any such legislation introduced by another, to either set limits to on-street parking fees, grant County residents a free season pass or grant County residents a season pass at a reasonable (which is totally subjective) fee. This is a local issue that should be handled by the local governmental entities involved, and not by the State,” Davis said in an email.

Davis did not respond to a request for comment on the issue sent in February from WECT.

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