City council puts parking meter hike proposal on hold
BY ZACK STOYCOFF World Staff Writer
Thursday, February 14, 2013
2/14/13 at 9:17 PM
A proposal to raise downtown’s parking meter rates to up to $2 per hour as part of a deal to privatize the meters’ maintenance is on hold.
City councilors agreed Thursday to postpone voting on the proposal indefinitely after several councilors said they wanted more information about other options, including continuing to maintain the meters with city staff.
“It sounds like there are still some outstanding questions,” Councilor Blake Ewing said. “I definitely think we owe it to the public to not hurry this thing along if there’s more research to be done and more conversations to be had.”
Mayor Dewey Bartlett has asked the council to consider raising meter rates in most of downtown to $1 per hour and on some streets to 30 cents or $2 per hour — up from the current range of 20 to 50 cents per hour.
That would generate enough revenue to follow through with a city committee’s recommendation in October to hire Tulsa-based American Parking to upgrade the meters and oversee their maintenance, officials have said.
Meanwhile, the higher rates would force downtown workers to leave the metered spaces for visitors, which would help the area’s businesses, Bartlett has argued.
Ewing suggested creating a City Council working group to look into the proposal after councilors said at a committee meeting Thursday that they would like to explore whether the city could adequately improve its own maintenance or generate enough revenue for the American Parking deal with a smaller rate hike.
Parking meter revenue has fallen by 38 percent since 2006 as funding cuts have hampered repairs and enforcement, according to city data and officials.
Officials have argued that a private company could better maintain the system, which they say has always fallen far short of the 98 percent operational rate promised by American Parking.
Michael Brink, a city efficiency consultant, told councilors Thursday that attempting to duplicate the American Parking work with in-house crews would cost about $667,000, or $3,000 less than the projected cost of the contract combined with increased enforcement.
“It was then the administration’s determination that with the cost roughly equal, the qualitative positives of going with that contract with American Parking outweighed the qualitative positives of keeping it in house,” Brink said.
The proposed contract’s guaranteed maintenance standards would add accountability, and the city could pull out if the standards are not maintained, he said.
Under the contract, which would have to be approved separately by the Tulsa Parking Authority, American Parking would replace the city’s 494 single-space meters with newer models within 120 days and update all 155 multispace meters to allow paying by debit or credit card.
As part of the stipulation that the company keep 98 percent of the meters working, it would have a maximum 48-hour window to repair broken meters.
The upgrades would be expected to increase meter revenue from $225,000 last year to between $872,000 and $896,000 — down from an original estimate of $940,000 because of new estimates for the city’s cost of credit card transactions.
American Parking would receive the first $509,000 and 5 percent of additional revenue, projected at $21,550.
The city expects to have about $226,000 left over to spend on downtown improvements after allocating $140,000 to increased enforcement.
Councilor Jeannie Cue said she still has reservations about privatization and would like a thorough written explanation of the argument.
She and Councilor Jack Henderson have indicated that they might not support the proposal if in-house maintenance could be effective.
Councilor Phil Lakin asked Brink to determine whether the city could break even in the deal with lower rate hikes, and Councilor Skip Steele and Ewing asked whether the city could charge a fee to recoup what it would pay when a credit card is used at the meters.
Brink said he will return to the council after gathering the additional information.