Paid parking: Don't tax residents twice

Oct 10, 2012

Lighthouse Park is popular. Anyone who has visited the waterfront park knows this. The 14.4-acre site with a beach, lighthouse, and boat launch is a big draw.

With renovations, it has become even more popular. On a sunny day, there isn’t enough parking to meet demand. More than 1,000 vehicles go through the park each day during spring and summer weekends.

Consequently, city officials have proposed that visitors – residents and non-residents alike – pay to park at Lighthouse Park and on surrounding streets.

But residents already pay for the park and streets through their property taxes. Making them pay for parking as well would essentially be double taxation. And that’s wrong.

Officials believe paid parking would relieve congestion near the waterfront and help offset maintenance and operation of the park, about $175,000 a year.

They estimate that revenues from paid parking would be about $170,000 a year. They also estimate, however, that monitoring costs would gobble up 30-40 percent of revenues. (In addition, it would cost the city more than $100,000 to set up and at least $4,000 a year to manage the meters.)

Generally, we’re fans of user fees: If you’re going to use the park, you should pay to maintain it. But this proposal won’t come close to covering maintenance costs. In large measure, paid parking would basically pay for paid parking.

As proposed, there would be a charge for parking March through September, Lighthouse Park’s most popular months. All other times, parking would remain free.

Visitors to the waterfront would pay $1.50 an hour to park from 3 p.m. to close Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to close Friday through Sunday. Some parking would be free on Wednesdays for the Farmers Market.

Residents could buy an annual $35 parking pass that gives them four hours of free parking per day. An eight-hour parking pass would cost residents $70. Non-residents would pay double for the passes.

The decision to offer an annual pass partially acknowledges the inequality between resident and non-resident visitors. Still, Mukilteans would be taxed twice for visiting their own park.

The city’s hope is that visitors would start using public transit, shuttles and carpools, or walk to the park. We think they’ll just start parking in Old Town, in our neighborhoods and in front of our homes and businesses so that they won’t have to pay.

Mathematically, after residents spent 23 hours at Lighthouse Park, the remainder of the seven months when parking fees are imposed would be free. But most residents don’t go to the park that often, so they’d likely opt to just pay the meter. Or they won’t go to the park at all.

And, lest we forget, Mukilteo taxpayers already have paid nearly $3.5 million to renovate Lighthouse Park – and only half of the city’s four-phase project is done.

In Phase 1, the city added berms, restrooms, picnic shelters, a playground, volleyball court and a drive-in with a turnaround that tied the Light Station to the park. It was a $2.9 million job, of which $800,000 was paid for by state grants. The rest came out of Mukilteans’ pockets.

Phase 2 of the renovation focused on the entrance to the park. Power lines were buried to open up the view of the lighthouse, native plantings, rubber sidewalks, restrooms, a band shell and Native American artwork were added as well.

The lighthouse was repainted, the roof cleaned, and siding and fencing replaced where needed.  A three-rail fence around the grounds and a ramp to the entrance were installed.

That cost $1.8 million. Half of it was funded by grants. Mukilteo taxpayers paid the other half.

If the city does implement paid parking as proposed, non-residents would be getting one sweet deal – a beautiful waterfront park that residents paid for – and would continue to fund through city taxes – minus their $1.50 an hour to park there.

Mukilteo City Council voted on Sept. 17 to request bids from parking companies. If council likes any of the bids it gets, it will implement paid parking starting March 1, 2013.

The Council is scheduled to talk again about paid parking in a special meeting at 6 p.m. on Oct. 29 at City Hall at 11930 Cyrus Way in Mukilteo.

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