Weather or bridge repairs?

by Cole Dittmer
Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Staff photo by Benton Sampson

Wrightsville Beach has reported a downturn in parking revenues from March through June, but spaces remain limited on Tuesday, July 2, 2013.

Has spring and summer’s perpetual rainfall or the persistent bridge lane closures been the cause of four consecutive months of negative parking revenues for the town of Wrightsville Beach? This is the question town of Wrightsville Beach officials are trying to answer. 

March, the first month of paid parking during the 2013 season, saw a decrease of 30.4 percent in parking revenues from March 2012 at $102,784 and still less than March 2011 revenues, which were $103,267. April followed a similar trend with the total of $158,440 down 32.6 percent from April 2012 and nearly $24,000 down from April 2011. While less of a decrease, this May was still down 5.1 percent from 2012 at $273,995 and approximately $37,500 less than 2011. June wrapped up the negative percent change parking revenues down 15.3 percent from June 2012 and nearly $35,000 less than June 2011.

Considering these negative revenues alongside the monthly rainfall totals for the same months provides a possible explanation for the drop. Collected by the Weather Underground data collection station at the town of Wrightsville Beach’s public works facility on Parmele Boulevard, rainfall totals for this April and June were more than double the same months for 2012 at 8 inches of rain for April and 9.3 inches for June. March and May 2013 rainfall totals were relatively low at 1.9 inches and 1 inch, respectively, as compared to the more than 5 inches of rain in the same months of 2012. 

As for the bridgework, Kerry Cross, district engineer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, said the Heide Trask Drawbridge was opened to all four lanes beginning March 28, but that the contractor, American Bridge, has been consistently closing the southernmost lane leading onto the island every Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

Concerned about the backup created when the lane is closed on good weather days, the town of Wrightsville Beach sent video footage of the traffic backup to NCDOT the week of June 27. 

Cross said the contractor has been working to shorten the amount of time the lane is closed each day. 

One economic indicator used to measure the success of the town’s tourist season is the monthly 6 percent Room Occupancy Tax that is levied by New Hanover County on each room rented at a hotel or rental establishment within each of the county’s five municipalities. The ROT collections in Wrightsville Beach for March and April 2013 totaled $46,102 and $65,965, respectively. While the March ROT total was up 2.63 percent from 2012, the April collection total, which coincides with the 8 inches of rain that month, was down 17.64 percent from 2012. 

Each month the ROT collection totals are reported by the Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitor’s Bureau; and in an email Jodi Hardee, CVB marketing manager, said the county has not yet released the May and June collections. 

Another indicator for the health of beach businesses is the monthly sales tax revenue collection. While the March 2013 total was up $2,000 from last year at $85,301, April 2013 was only up around $100 from 2012 at $91,769. Town finance director Peggy Jones said the May and June collection totals were not available yet because the state has 60 days after the end of each month to send a check to the town. 

Town manager Tim Owens said he believes the poor weather is more of an issue than the bridgework for parking revenues. Owens also suggested the Fiscal Year 2011-2012 parking revenues were bloated because the town collected two year’s worth of parking citations from out of state drivers. 

“We think the biggest difference could probably be weather; and also we did come up with a method to collect from out of state drivers,” Owens said. “So we collected debt service for out of state license plates for FY 10-11 and FY 11-12 within FY 11-12.”

Since the town manager projects estimated parking revenues in each Fiscal Year budget, Owens said consistent parking revenue decreases could be cause for concern. For the new, FY 2013-2014 budget that began July 1, Owens accounted for just more than $2 million in parking revenues, which was an increase of about $200,000 from the revenues projected in the previous year’s budget that ended June 30, 2013. That $2 million predicted for the FY 2013-2014 budget reflects 20 percent of the town’s estimated revenues for the fiscal year.  

“Obviously when revenue falls I wonder where we stand budget-wise and what was budgeted for FY 13-14. So it does concern me, particularly when we start seeing a trend over a few years but at this point I think it is mostly weather related,” Owens said. 


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