May 21, 2014 at 9:36 AM
SUMMIT, NJ—A proposal by the Summit Parking Services Agency to purchase 20 parking pay stations to replace meters, chiefly in the city’s longer-term parking lots, was cut in half on Tuesday as common council members called for more time to evaluate the proposed product before making a total commitment to it.
The decision finally was made to purchase nine of the new devices in order to evaluate their effectiveness before proceeding with a broader purchase program.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the primary plan supported by parking services manager Rita M. McNany advocated for the purchase of 20 Luke II Pay Stations through a cooperative purchasing agreement with Cranford. The proposal also would include the start of a trial of four machines on Railroad Avenue, with a total cost of $203,604.80 for this year, $214,416 for 2015 and $214,416 for 2016 for a total purchase price of $632,436.80.
Council general services chairman Albert Dill, Jr. said the newer devices would allow customers a greater range of payment options and many of them could be operated using solar power, thus eliminating the need to install electricity in areas that currently do not have electrical outlets available for parking meters.
Dill also said if the council waited to purchase the larger quantity of devices the city could face a bill for more expensive equipment in the future.
McNany said several years ago the council decided to retain Smart Card capability on its meters, but now only two vendors offer that technology and one one of the two vendors bid on Summit’s contract the last time bids were taken.
She added current parking machines, some of which were installed in 1985, with some upgraded in 2005, were challenging for some customers to use. She also said that in 2012 vendors told the city that the parts for some of its equipment no longer were made.
The parking services manager also said that many users, especially commuters, complained that current machines take too long to process credit card tranactions, whereas the newer devices could process the transactions in a matter of seconds, brought about due to their connectivity with Verizon, rather than the AT&T/T-Mobile connectivity of current city machines.
She also said the newer devices would give customers the option of extending their parking time by paying in cash at any pay station or paying by credit card and adding their cell phone number to the machine so they can receive a text message to extend their time.
However, Second Ward Councilman Richard Madden said, with the cost of maintenance and software for 20 machines or more, the total bill over four to five years could come to more than $1 million.
He said he would like to try out four or five systems first to see what the service and other costs would amount to before committing to 20 machines, adding he did not want to see the city waste money on parking as it had in the past.
Council finance chairman Mike McTernan said the parking question was a complicated issue that probably required a wider discussion and he would like to see only a few of the newer devices purchased on a trial basis.
He added, “It also raises again in my mind the issue of whether the city should be in the parking business at all.”
McNany replied that her proposals were based on those made in a report by city parking consultants several years ago.
Second Ward Councilman Patrick Hurley also said he had questions about whether a private vendor could more efficiently operate Summit’s parking system.
He added that he could not approve of an expenditure of $1 million on a parking device plan, especially in light of the fact that, he as public safety chairman, had trouble obtaining a feasibility study on replacement of the city’s 112-year-old fire headquarters.
On the question of privatization, Dill said that option could give up city control of its parking assets and it might not allow the city to determine who used its parking facilities.
Although a test was feasible, Dill added, in the long run, there probably would be need to replace more and more existing city meters.
Merchant Tony Melchionna said there were many complaints about lack of uniformity in meters in the downtown business district. He added prices for the devices probably would go up in the future and suggested leasing as an alternative to purchasing the machines.
Parking advisory committee member Joe Steiner said the council should have confidence that the committee had sufficiently “vetted” devices in a number of other communities before making the recommendations and the council’s confidence in the advisory committee would help the city to move forward on parking.
Commercial real estate broker Robert Steelman said customer satisfaction should be the key to any council decision and Summit should strive to make its parking system one that other communities would want to immitate.
When the final vote was taken on the proposal to purchase nine pay stations only McTernan opposed it.
He told The Alternative Press after the meeting that, to give the devices a real “trial run” only four of them should be purchased until the city saw how they worked out.
On another matter, the council approved a $40,000 contract with the Rosen Group of Summit to prepare schematic designs for renovations of the city’s community center.
Community programs director Judith Leblein Josephs said the schematics not only would be a plan for the proposed renovations, but they also would provide space approximations so those involved in seeking private donations for a portion of the project would have something to present to possible donors.
The governing body also approved a four-year memorandum of agreement with Local No. 54 of the Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association that will provide an average 1.5 percent salary increase at the highest step of the salary scale. It also increases the meal allowance for those brought in during emergencies, includes holiday pay in base pay and increases the salary guide from seven to 10 steps while increasing compensation for lieutenants on the first two steps of the salary guide.
McTernan said the change in the salary guide from seven to 10 steps will save the city about $95,000 for a firefighter starting at the first step.
The council also introduced ordinances establishing 2014 salaries for city employees, with increases average 1.5 percent, and decreasing the number of trustees on the Summit Downtown, Inc. board of trustees from 20 to 14.
Public hearings on the two ordinances are scheduled for June 17.
In another move, council public works chairwoman Sandra Lizza introduced a resolution authorizing a memorandum of agreement with Union Couny that will allow submission of an application for a state hazardous remediation grant for the site.
Lizza explained the county owns the site upon which the transfer station is located and the city leases the land from the county.
In another county-related measure, the council okayed an agreement whereby the city will reimburse the county for the cost of relocation of the sanitary sewer line under the Locust Drive culvert when the county replaces the culvert.
Council president Robert Rubino also announced that Union County Freeholder Director Chritopher Hudak is expected to attend the council’s next meeting on Wednesday, June 4. The date of the meeting was changed due to the June 3 primary election.