Pittsburgh city Councilman Patrick Dowd says he may launch a campaign to dissolve the city parking authority, saying that body and some other authorities are stuck in a no man's land between independence and subservience to the city.
Mr. Dowd said he would prefer making the parking authority, Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority and Urban Redevelopment Authority more independent of city government.
But if that can't be done, he said, he'll consider taking steps to dissolve them and bring their operations under city control. He said he'd start with the parking authority, which was drawn into last year's pension bailout controversy.
Mr. Dowd said the authorities should be nonpolitical bodies because of their special work, such as regulating water quality, promoting transportation policy and working for community investment.
Instead, he said, the authorities are overseen by politically connected boards that overlap with city government. He said their quasi-independent status has stifled creativity, kept them from achieving their potential and led to politically based policy-making.
He called the parking authority's below-market parking rates in Downtown garages one example of bad policy. He also said the authority should take a greater role in influencing local transportation policy.
"There has to be either independence or unification [with city government]. You can't have some halfway state between the two," Mr. Dowd said.
Mr. Dowd said his comments weren't directed at all authorities. He said he'd exclude the housing authority, which operates under federal guidelines, and agencies such as the Sports and Exhibition Authority that serve both the city and the county.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Mr. Dowd's remarks. Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, a parking authority board member, said she wasn't familiar enough with Mr. Dowd's ideas to comment on them.
In an e-mail, Councilman Bill Peduto, council's finance chairman, said he's open to the suggestions.
"Having the city take over control of some authorities and combining the county and city housing authority were recommendations made by the authors of the home rule charter in the early 1970s. I support looking at ways to have more direct responsibility of the authorities or limiting the mission of their work. Both would require state approvals," he said.
Mr. Dowd, a member of the water and sewer authority board, said the agency raised rates this year to generate an additional $8 million to $9 million. Meanwhile, he said, the authority is paying $7.3 million to the city this year for unspecified city services.
He said he doesn't know what those services are and has never seen a bill from the city.
In all, the water and sewer authority, parking authority and redevelopment authority will give an estimated $11.4 million to the city this year. The city's 2011 budget says the annual payments are in lieu of taxes "and for reimbursement of services performed by the city at the request of the authorities."
Mr. Dowd said he'd dissolve the parking authority first because it has less debt, about $100 million, than other bodies.
During debate over a city pension bailout last year, city council voted to raise rates at parking meters and asked the authority to raise garage rates. Council wanted that money to be directed to the pension fund, but the authority rejected the idea.
Mr. Dowd said he isn't angry at the authority for taking the stance it did.
However, he said he isn't sure the authority is getting the highest revenues that it can from its parking operations. Perhaps, he said, the city itself should take over the assets and use the revenue for a variety of purposes.
Nor, Mr. Dowd said, does he like the current patchwork ownership structure of parking assets, with some garages and lots owned and managed by the authority and others owned by the city but managed by the authority.
"We have parking assets that are here, there and everywhere," he said.
Mr. Dowd said he'll explore a possible parking authority takeover during a post-agenda meeting on authority issues. The meeting has not yet been scheduled.
Joe Smydo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1548.