Parking authority rejects plan to boost city general fund
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Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak on Thursday said the parking authority could raise more than $100 million in new revenue in coming years and should dedicate a small part of it to the city's general budget.
But the authority board questioned her math and rejected her proposal to form a study panel, exposing anew the hard feelings from last year's debate over how to rescue the city pension fund.
With modest parking rate increases, Ms. Rudiak said, the authority could modernize meters and build nearly $93 million in reserves by 2021 while giving the city about $93 million during the same period. If the authority decided to undertake significant repairs to garages, her office said, it could tap the $93 million in reserves.
Saying the pension debate created "extreme dysfunction" among arms of city government, she urged the authority board to "eliminate the back and forth and bring down these bad feelings" so the public would be better served.
"We all have the same goals. I like to think that," Ms. Rudiak said.
Authority Chairman Scott Kunka and members Linda Judson and Chris D'Addario said they needed validation of Ms. Rudiak's revenue projections before entertaining her proposal.
"Numbers are presented here as if they're fact. We're asking for the backup," including worksheets showing how rate increases would translate into the councilwoman's revenue projections, said Mr. Kunka, who is also Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's finance director.
The backup already is publicly available, a frustrated Ms. Rudiak said, noting the revenue projections came from a study council commissioned during the pension debate. She said Mr. Kunka and his staff are familiar with the data.
"You have seen the rates. You have analyzed the rates," she told Mr. Kunka.
Council last year rejected Mr. Ravenstahl's proposal to lease parking garages and meters for 50 years, a deal that would have increased garage and meter rates and generated $452 million for the city, pension fund and authority.
Instead, council proposed selling the city's share of parking assets, including the Mellon Square garage and about 7,000 on-street meters, to the parking authority for $220 million and pumping that money into the pension fund. The authority rejected that plan, which would have required the authority to float and repay the debt with rate increases.
On Dec. 31, council passed a pension bailout package that dedicates $735.6 million in parking tax revenue through 2041. The diversion of parking tax revenue created a hole in future budgets, and council wants to fill the gap with increased contributions from the parking authority.
The authority contributed $1.3 million to the city last year. Council wants $2.6 million this year and $9.3 million annually after that. Ms. Rudiak and other council members contend that the authority can provide the extra cash to the city -- and build up its own reserves -- by adopting rate increases more modest than those in the mayor's lease plan.
The authority had not moved to implement the proposal, even though council had asked Mr. Ravenstahl to use his influence with the authority board to get the ball rolling. On Thursday, for the first time, the authority signaled its reluctance to embrace the plan, at least without more financial information.
The authority is considering major capital improvements to four Downtown garages. It voted to pay Desman Associates about $83,000 to study the garages' needs.
First Published April 22, 2011 12:00 am