Montgomery County may no longer offer free parking for the entire weekend at its county garages and lots in Bethesda.
The county is contemplating charging for parking in its Bethesda lots and garages on Saturday. County Executive Ike Leggett is proposing the change, which could take effect in the summer of 2017, according to a Montgomery County Council transportation committee memo from Deputy Council Administrator Glenn Orlin. Currently, drivers park for free in county lots in Bethesda on weekends.
The move is expected to generate an estimated $1.6 million per year for the beleaguered Bethesda Parking Lot District. It’s among three ways the county hopes to prop up the Bethesda parking fund, which has been depleted through diminished tax revenue and transfers to other county funds in recent years.
The Bethesda fund, which receives money from parking fines and fees as well as a special tax on properties in the parking district, is expected to go broke by 2020 if no changes are made. The council and the county executive are proposing limiting transfers from the fund as well as new variable parking rates to provide more revenue.
The variable parking rates would apply to Bethesda and possibly Silver Spring lots. The proposal would allow the county to charge different rates at different parking garages and lots based on their use. As proposed by Leggett, rates in Bethesda parking garages would increase to a maximum of $1 per hour, slightly up from the current rate of 80 cents per hour, but rates at underused garages could be less. Think about it like Uber—when more people are requesting rides, Uber prices rise. For example, if the Bethesda Row garages were packed, the county could set the rate for them at the maximum, and reduce the charge at other nearby garages to encourage customers to park at those that are less utilized.
Al Roshdieh, acting director of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, told council members at a committee meeting Friday the variable rate is designed to free up spaces in popular downtown lots rather than to raise revenue.
Some garages, like the two closest to Bethesda Row, are already designed to track the number of available spaces, and could potentially change rates in real time. Other garages do not have the technology, but the county is considering adding it to those garages to make the proposal work in the future.
The Bethesda fund also is expected to generate additional revenue from the $1.7 million sale of a portion of the Rugby and Woodmont Avenue garage, which is being redeveloped into a police station, and the $4.5 million sale of Lot 43 to a developer who plans to construct an apartment building at the site near the intersection of Cordell and Woodmont avenues. Both of those lots are currently owned by the county.
Another significant move under consideration by the council is a plan to stop taxing by commercial properties that don’t provide the required amount of on-site parking. The Parking Lot District tax provides an estimated 12 percent of the Bethesda Parking Lot District’s annual revenue in fiscal year 2015—or about $2.6 million. In the Silver Spring Parking Lot District the tax brings in about $7.8 million or 38 percent of its expected annual revenue.
Leggett has proposed that the revenue from the tax be offset by allowing the parking lot districts to keep revenue generated by parking fines rather than transferring that money to the Mass Transit Fund, which is largely used to operate the Ride On bus system, according to Orlinn’s memo.
The parking lot district tax came under scrutiny by developers last fall after many said they were being charged by the county, even though they had adequate parking on their properties. In November, the council passed a bill allowing developers who believe they may have been incorrectly taxed to apply for exemptions. Under the new proposal, the tax would be set at zero, meaning properties would no longer have to pay it, but the council could decide at a later point to raise it.
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