Mayor suggests more relaxed street parking hours
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In a move likely to score points with motorists, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl on Thursday suggested dropping the expanded parking enforcement hours that took effect June 1 as an indirect part of city council's pension bailout.
While Mr. Ravenstahl may be willing to forgo revenue with scaled-back enforcement, council is not. Citing the city's financial position, Councilman Bill Peduto, the body's finance chairman, said a cut in enforcement hours would have to be offset with still-higher meter rates in some neighborhoods.
"These decisions need to happen neighborhood by neighborhood," he said, calling for neighborhood groups to have a voice in any discussion about more rate and enforcement changes.
Council President Darlene Harris also insisted that changes, which would have to be approved by council, bring no loss of revenue. She said the mayor's office and the parking authority can appear before council to make their case.
"If they can come up with the money, hey, let them do what they want," she said.
In December, over Mr. Ravenstahl's veto, council passed a pension bailout that taps more than $735 million in parking tax revenue over 30 years. The state hasn't yet ruled on whether the bailout meets its requirements, and Mr. Kunka said the fund's status remains "precarious."
The diversion of the parking tax left a perennial hole in the city's operating budget. Council -- against the mayor's wishes and without a pledge of cooperation from the parking authority the mayor controls -- voted to fill the gap by increasing meter rates and expanding enforcement hours.
The five-year schedule of increases began taking effect June 1. The enforcement period -- previously 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. citywide Monday through Saturday -- was extended to 10 p.m. in some of the busiest neighborhoods.
Mr. Ravenstahl and the city have been getting an earful from motorists ever since.
"The mayor's concerned about it," Scott Kunka, city finance director and Pittsburgh Parking Authority chairman, said.
During a meeting Thursday, Mr. Kunka asked the authority to study the impact of reverting to a 6 p.m. enforcement cutoff citywide. The review will have financial and operational dimensions. The authority potentially would use some of the new meter revenue to repair parking garages. It's also seeking bids for new metering devices, and it's already moved to hire at least 10 more enforcement officers to cover the extra hours.
In April, Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, a parking authority board member and mayoral critic, estimated that the rate increases, coupled with creation of additional metered spaces, could net an additional $10.4 million annually for the authority by 2017. Council also wanted the authority to increase rates at authority-owned garages, and Ms. Rudiak said those increases could net an additional $8.8 million for the authority by 2017.
Mr. Ravenstahl doesn't envision more meter rate increases to compensate for reduced enforcement hours. "In fact, he is looking at whether or not some rates in neighborhoods are too high already," Ms. Doyle said in an email.
She said Mr. Ravenstahl responds to motorists' complaints "by agreeing with their concerns, and explaining that he did challenge, and eventually veto, council's proposal to raise rates and increase enforcement times."
Ironically, Mr. Ravenstahl last year was the first to propose parking rate increases and expanded enforcement.
He included the changes in his unsuccessful bid to prop up the pension fund with a 50-year, $452 million lease of parking garages and meters to private investors. After rejecting the mayor's plan, council passed its own pension bailout and schedule of rate increases.
Council has heard motorists' complaints, too. Mr. Peduto said he and his colleagues already have asked their budget office to study the possibility of tweaking the enforcement hours. However, that could mean still higher meter rates in some neighborhoods, he said, because the city can't afford to give up additional revenue.
So far, that extra revenue has proved elusive.
The city owns the street meters, so the authority had no choice but to increase the rates and expand the enforcement hours as council demanded. But under a previous agreement, the authority keeps most of the meter revenue. Although council demanded that some of the additional meter revenue be turned over to the city to help balance future operating budgets, authority board members, except for Ms. Rudiak, have declined to do so.
The authority annually provides the city with a $1.3 million payment. Council had requested a payment of $2.6 million this year and $9.3 million annually after that.
Mr. Kunka complained that council ordered rate increases without providing assistance to the authority, which had to calibrate meters to accept extra quarters. Mr. Peduto said council and the mayor would be getting fewer complaints about meter rate increases and enforcement hour changes if the authority hadn't waited until summer to explore the purchase of multispace metering devices that accept credit cards in addition to quarters.
First Published August 19, 2011 12:00 am