In the ocean-front Delaware town of Rehoboth Beach, seasonal parking fees provide a major revenue source:
In Rehoboth Beach, parking meters -- at $1.50 per hour -- are big business. They bring in $2.58 million for the city's $14.75 million operating budget.
Fines on expired meters add another $667,000, bringing the total to more than $3.2 million. More comes from parking permit fees, fines for parking without a permit and collections from a lot the city operates at the north end of the community. All told, parking is the largest single segment of the city budget.
Meters, some say, are one way the city can capture a revenue stream from the thousands of summer visitors who don't rent a cottage or stay in a hotel room, or who rent accommodations outside the city limits.
City Manager Gregory J. Ferrese said he believes meter and parking permits eliminate the need for beach fees, which are routinely charged in New Jersey resorts.
This is not to say that one can't use the beaches without paying for parking; Resort Transit brings people in by bus from the Coastal Highway, and the Jolly Trolley has been transporting tourists and others from nearby Dewey Beach for many decades.
But parking revenue is a great example of a user fee. One pays for what one takes, and if one doesn't need, one doesn't pay.
A few years ago, the price of parking varied according to location; more recently, they seem to have returned to a one-price-at-all-meters system, which puzzles me a bit. But after late September, the parking meters disappear until late spring, because there usually is plenty of parking to meet the demand.
I seem to recall reading that on-street parking is properly priced if about 15% of spots are available at any particular time. I suspect that that rule of thumb may not hold in RB in season, though I suspect that RB could charge more for ocean-block parking. (I suspect that nearly 100% of RB's parking spots will be occupied during most hours of peak season, at any reasonable price.)
Rehoboth is from the Hebrew for "space for all." One source says "City of Room" "Big City" "Broad Places, Streets" "Streets, Wide Spaces." Interestingly, when Rehoboth Beach was first laid out, by the Methodist diocese of Wilmington, as a camp meeting ground, the streets were designed to be wide and become wider as they approached the ocean, so all could have some view and access.
As a society, how do we create "space for all?" By structures and policies which encourage all of us to take only what we'll use. No land speculation, for example. (Rehoboth Beach fails on this count; its low property tax and use of 30+ year old assessments encourage people to hold onto empty land and unaltered cottages as a low-cost nest-egg; a new home far from the beach may pay far more in taxes than an older one close to it which sells for twice the price). And a 3% tax on transfers -- half to the city, half to the county -- discourages transactions.)
Some of RB's revenue comes from a 3% tax on rental income. I'm intrigued to know that parking brings in more than the tax on rentals.
Delaware, wisely, does not use a sales tax. Rehoboth Beach has 3 large outlet malls just beyond its borders, which attract shoppers from nearby Ocean City, Maryland, and even from southern New Jersey; the latter arrive by ferry for a day of tax-free shopping.
And of course the Federal government is generous with paying for beach replenishment, which helps keep the renters and beachgoers coming, at little or no cost to the property owners in RB.
In any case, parking fees are Natural Public Revenue