Sunday, November 14, 2010

MAYOR RIGHT ON PARKING FEES: National trends, experts suggest

COLUMBIA, 11/14/10  (Beat Byte) -- A contentious debate between Columbia city managers and Mayor Bob McDavid (left, with Alisa Warren, Executive Director of the Missouri Commission on Human Rights) about transferring revenues from parking meters and parking garages into the city's long-suffering General Fund comes down on the side of the Mayor, say national trends and a noted expert on city parking.
Parking in Columbia is big business.  City Hall has a virtual monopoly on downtown parking, with meters on every street, a garage on nearly every corner, and a parking behemoth arising like the alien mother ship from the movie Independence Day overshadowing every building in its path. 
McDavid sees parking revenues as untapped citizen benefits and wants to use a portion of them for general public services.  But senior city managers see parking revenues as more funds they alone control and -- if past shenanigans are any guide -- can shell game into activities of their own choosing. 
Staff report, please
A City Council staff report scheduled for this Monday's meeting prepared by departing Columbia finance director Lori Fleming hems and haws about McDavid's proposal, repeatedly emphasizing "legal covenants posed by bond restrictions" and other staff-speak for "we don't like the Mayor's idea."
The report throws around a lot of numbers, threatens "drastic increases" in already high parking fees if Council tampers with the current system, and concludes with a staff review of similar cities in Missouri and the Midwest.  Fleming finds -- of course -- that most other cities deposit their parking fees into a parking fund rather than a General Fund.
But parking funds are behind the times, says UCLA urban planning expert Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking -- a book Heart Beat readers may recall from an earlier story that had assistant city manager Tony St. Romaine reading and touting it.
Shoup advocates what McDavid seeks:  "Return parking meter revenue generated by the district to the district for the district." 
"To help create great streets," Shoup says, "a city should return parking revenue to the metered districts to pay for added public services.  The added funds can pay to clean and maintain sidewalks, plant trees, improve lighting, bury overhead utility wires, remove graffiti, and provide other public improvements."   
In Columbia, such public improvements are mostly the purview of the General Fund.   
Making parking pay
Shoup cites Austin, Texas; Redwood City, California; and Pasadena, Calif. as cities wisely using parking revenues for public services.   "Pasadena devised a creative parking policy that has contributed greatly to Old Pasadena's revival.  It uses Old Pasadena's parking meter revenue to finance additional public spending in the area," write Shoup and San Mateo County Transit District urban planner Douglas Kolozsvari.   
Other cities are following suit, making parking pay for other city services.  This month, the Pittsburgh City Council unveiled a pension bailout proposal to renegotiate a revenue-sharing agreement with the city Parking Authority, which -- like Columbia -- receives virtually all parking meter revenue.  Under the new Pittsburgh ordinance, revenue increases in meter rates would go to the city pension fund, not the parking utility. 
Faced with tight budgets, several other cities are looking to tap parking revenues, including Harrisburg, Penn.; Los Angeles; and Miami, where city leaders want parking revenues to replenish reserves. 
Turning Small Change into Big Changes
by Donald Shoup and Douglas Kolozsvari
City Staff report on parking revenue for Monday night

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