Five on city council want to halt meter ticketing after 6 p.m.

Parking reprieve possible for city

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Five Pittsburgh City Council members are trying to halt parking meter enforcement at 6 p.m. citywide for the rest of the year, saying Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has undermined their efforts to boost the pension fund and maintain a balanced budget.

A bill expected Tuesday would halt evening enforcement only through the end of December, at which time the Pittsburgh Parking Authority is expected to have meter upgrades in place to make paying for parking easier for motorists and business owners. The measure also would cover $1.3 million in extra meter receipts the authority was expected to forward to the city budget this year.

The mayor said two weeks ago that he, too, favored curtailing evening enforcement and Friday ordered that all one-hour meters be expanded to two-hour time limits. The latest council moves, he said, were just another "haphazard" twist in the pension bailout debate.

"The residents and I have been troubled by the impact of this haphazard plan and now, finally, council agrees. Mark down this milestone: Council members are finally on the same page as me and the residents of Pittsburgh," Mr. Ravenstahl said in a statement.

Council's New Year's Eve pension bailout tapped more than $735 million in parking tax revenue over 31 years. To offset the loss of that money from the general fund, council approved a schedule of parking rate increases and expanded enforcement four hours, until 10 p.m., in certain neighborhoods.

While motorists have groused about the changes, council members say the parking authority has declined to turn over additional meter revenue, undermining their reason for raising rates and expanding enforcement in the first place.

Council blamed the authority's intransigence on Mr. Ravenstahl, whose finance director, Scott Kunka, heads the authority board. In a letter to the mayor Friday, the council members -- Darlene Harris, Bruce Kraus, William Peduto, Natalia Rudiak and Doug Shields -- accused Mr. Ravenstahl of a "concerted effort to undermine" council's plan to prop up the pension fund and keep revenue flowing to the general fund.

Not only has the authority declined to turn over additional revenue to the city, the letter said, but the authority has moved slowly to install new metering devices that accept credit cards and would help motorists adjust to the rate and enforcement changes.

"These actions have hurt the residents, visitors and business owners of the city of Pittsburgh," the letter said.

The city just sent the state paperwork on Thursday saying the parking funds should adequately boost its pension plan and thereby avoid state takeover. Mr. Kunka said it was "outrageous and hypocritical" for council to issue its letter while the state's review is under way, and he claimed the parking agency was remitting revenues on schedule to the city budget.

Councilman Patrick Dowd -- one of the architects of the council bailout -- also criticized the timing of the letter. "We need to be committing ourselves to showing the utmost confidence" in the bailout plan, he said, but the letter "unfortunately casts doubt."

If approved, the evening enforcement halt would only be temporary. By the end of the year, the council letter said, the parking authority must agree to turn over more meter revenue to the city and move to install new metering devices.

"It is unfortunate that over the past nine months, you have been unwilling to take the steps necessary to protect the city," the letter told the mayor. "We cannot stand idly by while you take these actions for political gain."

At issue is $1.3 million in extra parking revenue needed to help balance the city's 2011 budget. The council bill would fill that hole with funds from the city's savings account.

The fund balance had a healthy $52 million at the beginning of the year and has grown since then, city Controller Michael Lamb said. Another $9.3 million in authority payments are budgeted annually starting in 2012.

Managers at Downtown restaurants Friday said they've heard a litany of complaints from diners about the metered parking, who, prior to Friday, could not enjoy a full-length meal without running out to plug the meter and had to lug around at least a dozen quarters if they hoped to park for an hour.

"Nobody's happy," said Dianne Porter, the floor manager at the 2-week-old Taste of Dahntahn on Liberty Avenue. "When you're trying to enjoy yourself, the last thing you want to think about is a $20 or $30 parking ticket."

She thought easing the parking situation could bring more diners to the Golden Triangle who might have gone to the suburbs to avoid the Downtown parking hassle.

Jerry Fink, a manager at NOLA on the Square, agreed. His restaurant has leased a lot and offers complimentary valet parking to help lure diners concerned about getting a ticket to his Market Square restaurant. Customers who park on their own have been getting ticketed minutes before the 10 p.m. cutoff, he said.

"I think it'll help all of Market Square," he said.

Joe Smydo: . Tim McNulty: or 412-263-1581. Staff writer Moriah Balingit contributed.


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