I’ve written about parking so much I’m out of clever titles

Tonight’s City Council meeting has among its many topics item 8.7 B (Transmitting Informational Communication Relative to the On and Off Street Parking Program Assessment Study).

To sum up the memo:

  • Worcester’s parking garages are running in deficit, and have done for some time.
  • Municipal surface lots have operated with a very small surplus.
  • On-street metered parking rates are set by the City Council; off-street (lots, garages) rates are set by the Off-Street Parking Board.
  • Our revenues are low because we’re not charging a lot for parking.
  • So — one entity should be responsible for the parking in the city, and we should likely privatize at least part of the operations.

As usual, there are numerous problems with the conclusions and the “evidence” supporting them. Certainly it’s never clear why we need to pay consultants for these kinds of reports.

I’ll present some comments to the City Council tonight.  Here’s a slightly more detailed version of what I’ll say.

The numbers from the memo don’t match what we’ve seen in the budget

The city’s budgets have traditionally showed that the net expenditures for all forms of parking equal the net funding sources.  (You can find this on page 190 of the FY2013 city budget.)  But the memo from Commissioner Moylan shows that we are running a deficit when it comes to the parking garages, and the numbers from the budget do not reflect the numbers in his memo.

For example, the FY2013 budget shows that FY2011 actuals for on-street parking meters had an income of $75,917, with expenditures to match (so, netting to zero), but the memo says that for the same year, the meters had an income of $237,588.24, and expenses of $245,372.72 (so, a loss of about $8,000).  It is unclear which of these is the correct figure, so it’s impossible for me as a citizen to evaluate whether the suggestions he makes in his memo are good financial sense.

If we have had concerns about deficits in parking for a few years, why hasn’t the city budget reflected accurate actuals so that we would know this was coming before we reached a crisis point?  And if parking operations have been running at a deficit, then what is making up the difference: parking ticket revenue, tax levy, or something else?

We’re not provided with all the information

Indeed, because of the way the city budget is structured, it’s not clear exactly how much it costs to administer the Parking Ticket Division, which is something that we would need to know before evaluating the merits of another way of doing business.

When we’re shown comparisons in the revenue between various cities, especially in their revenue from parking meters, we’re never told how many meters each city operates.  How can I compare whether Portsmouth is making a killing if I don’t know if they have more, less, or the same number of meters as Worcester?

Apples and oranges

In Commissioner Moylan’s figures for the parking meter revenue for other communities, he neglects to mention that many of those figures include parking tickets/fines.

Take the case of Manchester, NH.  Much of the $1,092,000 in revenue he mentions is not from regular meter fees but from parking tickets.  Indeed, according to its FY2012 budget, Manchester takes in $1,222,000 in parking ticket revenue, which is less than Worcester’s $1.8 million.  Manchester takes in a net of just $376,332, excluding fines, of parking meter revenue.

In the case of Portsmouth, NH, the figure the commissioner gives as meter revenue is either revenue for the entire city parking operation, including the parking garage, or else it is the raw parking meter revenue (which does not take operations expenses into account, which could significantly lower Portsmouth’s revenue from meters alone).

The Commissioner is comparing apples to oranges — he’s including parking ticket or garage revenue for the other cities and not for Worcester.  While that is partly due to the city of Worcester’s designation of this account as appropriation rather than enterprise, it does not follow that we will be raking in the money if we follow his suggestions and privatize our parking operations.

Why is Pearl Elm comparatively successful?

Pearl-Elm is the only garage that’s currently operating in the black.

I believe (but am not sure) that there is a 99-year lease (expiring around 2090) of 200 parking spaces in the Pearl-Elm garage with One Chestnut Place.  How much does that account for the comparative success of that garage?  What other long-term leases do we have that might be affected by this plan?

Let’s take the good from Portsmouth

Portsmouth, NH has a program where they provide heavily discounted parking rates in their garages for times when there is a parking ban.  You can get a coupon from their parking office ahead of time, park in a garage for the length of the snow ban, and present the coupon to pay $3 for the entire time you parked.

Portsmouth also has free downtown parking in the weeks around Christmas and New Year’s.

If Portsmouth is our model, are these ideas also going to be considered for Worcester?

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