The City of Charlottetown has pumped the brakes again on previously announced increases to parking downtown.
City council held a special meeting late Thursday afternoon in which it listened to presentations made by Downtown Charlottetown Inc. (DCI) and the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce.
Both groups opposed council’s intent to implement an increase at the meters and parkades on Oct. 1. Council decided to delay any increase until Oct. 31 and schedule a meeting with DCI and the chamber in the meantime.
Following a presentation by Liam Dolan, on behalf of DCI, and Colin Younker, a board member with the chamber, council voted 9-1 to delay the increases until at least Jan. 31, 2021.
Dolan, who owns Peakes Quay, told council staffing at his restaurant is down 50 per cent and his revenues are down 80 per cent. Younker, who owns The Spa, said his business is also hurting.
Mayor Philip Brown said council felt the city had to share in some of the pain so it decided to delay the increases until Jan. 31, which was the date suggested by the interest groups.
“This is not the time to look at raising or augmenting our fees for parking; for our meter rates; we have to be part of that pain,’’ Brown said.
The mayor said the municipality might be able to tap into money coming from the federal government, pointing to the $19-billion safe restart pledge, which was announced in July and reiterated during Thursday’s throne speech in Ottawa. P.E.I.’s share is expected to be more than $40 million, money that will be used for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing as well as on personal protective equipment and child care.
Brown said $8 million will be set aside for municipalities. Of that, $1.1 million will go to the transit system.
The Charlottetown mayor said there will be $5,080,000 that will be distributed to Island municipalities on a per capita basis and the city hopes to get its hands on some of that funding.
“We’re trying to find sources of funding,’’ he said. “But, we’re also not spending the money we did in previous years.’’
Brown refers to money for things like professional development, travel expenses and sponsorship and festivals.
Coun. Terry Bernard, chairman of council’s standing committee on finance, also stated at Thursday’s meeting that the city entered this fiscal year with a surplus of more than $2 million.
Coun. Mike Duffy, the lone councillor to vote against another delay, said the city as a corporation has services it must provide and it needs money coming in to do that.
Penny Walsh-McGuire, CEO of the chamber, said increases fees sends the wrong message and would be a deterrent for people trying to support local businesses.
“This is also an extra cost burden on downtown employers and employees in a time where many are just trying to get by,’’ Walsh-McGuire said, referring to the impact of the rate hikes.
Dawn Alan with DCI said for businesses struggling, something like a fee change could be “that proverbial straw’’.
“We understand fees for services do and will change,’’ Alan said. “Council recognized this is not the right time. “Collaboration, openness and having downtown stakeholders at the table when proposed changes will directly impact them is always important, but even more so now, when we know so many businesses are truly struggling.’’
Coun. Greg Rivard, who supports the decision to delay, said it was simply the right thing to do.
“I felt the timing of the increase was poor and I think we need to be looking at ways to encourage residents and visitors to support our downtown businesses, be it shopping, eating or entertainment,’’ Rivard said.
Brown said the city tried to help as much as it could early on, waiving meter and parkade fees from April to the end of June and providing funding to a concert series through the summer.
“We’re doing our part but they (DCI, chamber) are asking for a little more,’’ the mayor said. “They need some help. This is a way for us to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.’’