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Sarasota Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009 8 years ago

Parking future in question

by: Robin Roy City Editor

When the City Commission indefinitely shelved the discussion of increasing the number of downtown parking meters last week, it eliminated the primary source of funding that would keep the floundering parking department afloat.

The city’s parking department is projected to completely run through its $1 million reserve fund by the end of 2010 and be $500,000 in the hole at the end of 2011.

City Manager Bob Bartolotta gave commissioners two options to keep the department solvent without meters — support it with more taxpayer dollars or do away with regulated parking.

“If we don’t want regulated parking, we can disband the parking department overnight,” he said.

It’s not yet clear how much ad-valorem tax dollars would be required, according to Assistant to the City Manager Susan Dodd, who also serves as parking manager.

“If only maintenance and operations were subsidized, it would be one amount,” she said. “If only the garage operations were subsidized, it would be another. If (it) only (funds) the difference to stay in the black, it would be another.”

Last fiscal year, parking-department expenditures were $784,439, while revenues were $489,998.
If the city chooses to cut back on regulated parking, another host of options would exist. Regulated parking, which includes overtime ticket writing, parking-permit sales and new parking meters, could be eliminated completely, reduced slightly or handed over to a private company.

Last year, the city earned $57,115 from parking permits, $10,350 from parking meters and $331,274 from parking enforcement.

Dodd said it’s possible, but unlikely, that overtime parking enforcement would be eliminated altogether, allowing people to park on Main Street, and other regulated streets, all day without repercussions.

However, parking-department employees have already been told that the enforcement program could be privatized or eliminated and that they may want to apply for other job openings within city government.

Of the six full-time staff members in the department last year, two have already taken other jobs with the city, and one other is expected to retire this year. Part-time workers have filled their positions for now.

The three remaining full-time employees are currently applying for other jobs. If they leave the department, more part-time employees would be used to write tickets until a decision is made about the parking unit’s future.

“Replacing our full-time members with part-time or temporary employees reduces our expenditures, helping us close the (budget) gap,” said Dodd.

Complicating matters for the parking department is the coming Palm Avenue parking garage. Its projected cost is $11 million to build, but the city was counting on downtown parking meters to drive the cost of the spaces in the garage.

Because commissioners chose to keep Main Street, Palm Avenue and other prime parking areas free of meters, the city may have to offer free parking in the garage, as well.

The on-street parking spaces are the premium spots, so the city can’t charge more for less-desirable parking spaces.

The operation and management of the garage was expected to be about $225,000 per year, but if some spaces are offered for free, that could cut some of the expenses, such as personnel.

Contact Robin Roy at [email protected].

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